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More nurses having flu vaccination could cut absence rates, study shows

Persuading more nurses and other NHS staff to have the flu vaccination could dramatically reduce overall sickness absence rates, a study shows

Flu_Jab-Justin_Slee_
Picture: Justin Slee

Persuading more nurses and other NHS staff to have the flu vaccination could dramatically reduce overall sickness absence rates, a study shows.

Researchers from Imperial College London gathered data on immunisation programmes and NHS absences from four flu seasons starting in 2011.

They collected information on 800,000 staff working at 223 trusts across England.

Protecting patients

Writing in the Royal College of Physicians' journal Clinical Medicine, the team said a 10% increase in the vaccination rate among NHS staff was associated with an identical fall in absences.

They said the change in absence rates only occurred during the flu season, typically October to March, suggesting a vaccination programme was the most likely reason.

RCP president Jane Dacre recommended to NHS chief executives in November that all staff should be vaccinated against flu to keep them at work and protect patients from infection.

Spreading infections

She said that during a typical season one in four healthcare staff will catch the flu.

About half of them will not have major symptoms but can still spread infections, especially to vulnerable patients, the study says.

The current uptake rate of free flu vaccinations by NHS staff is 50%, according to the research team's paper, The Healthcare worker influenza vaccination and sickness absence – an ecological study.

They suggest this is partly because many healthcare workers are unclear about how effective it is, are concerned about possible side effects, or because it is inconvenient for them to get it.

Saving money

They say bringing sickness absence rates down would save substantial sums of money by reducing cancelled activity and the need to employ locum staff.

Study author Nick Hopkinson said: ‘These data provide a good argument for individual healthcare workers to get vaccinated against flu to protect themselves, their patients and their colleagues.

‘Hospitals and other NHS organisations also need to ensure that vaccination is easily available.’

Professor Dacre said: ‘This study provides yet more evidence of the benefits of flu vaccination, and underlines the importance of this simple measure in protecting us all over winter.’


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