Is flu jab becoming the norm for health staff?

PrintRecord figures suggest flu jabs for most UK National Health Service (NHS) staff could become the norm.

The last three years have seen an increase of about 50 per cent in the proportion of NHS staff in England who choose to get vaccinated against flu. This is remarkable growth in a huge organisation, giving unprecedented protection to the workforce and its patients.

By the end of 2013, some 494,083 staff – that’s 53.1 per cent of frontline NHS workers – had been vaccinated. That’s about 5,000 vaccinations each day. By the end of the winter, this figure will be even higher. 

This progress has been recognised, which has increased faster this winter than in previous years. A recent European Commission report praised the UK as the exception among member states in reporting clear increases in healthcare staff vaccinations, stating that “the United Kingdom experience shows what can be done when there is a focus on this group.”

Crucially, staff are beginning to say that a culture of staff flu vaccinations is becoming ‘the norm’ through a combination of enthusiasm, group behaviour and an ever-growing understanding of the relevant routines.

Making staff flu vaccinations ‘the norm’ is the clear ambition of the national NHS flu fighter campaign – which our organisation NHS Employers – has been running for the past three years. We see it as more than just an annual campaign. We work creatively to promote vaccinations and we give the committed local NHS teams the best tools and guidance available. This helps them to encourage as many staff to have the non-mandatory vaccination and to make having one as convenient as possible.

It’s an approach that is bound by social media, sharing ideas and inventive staff engagement. It’s very easy to underestimate the value of sharing good practice, so here are a few examples that convey the sort of energy behind the campaign.

Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust produced a cover version of Mariah Carey’s Christmas classic ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ to generate publicity for their flu vaccination campaign. Their video included some 80-100 staff members, patients and visitors which amassed over 20,000 YouTube hits. It saw coverage in the Metro, the Guardian and the Nursing Standard. The trust’s Twitter followers increased by almost 60 per cent in the weeks after the video went viral.

Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Trust designed a forties-style communications campaign to promote flu vaccination for frontline healthcare workers. They developed their own ‘War on Flu’ concept, with clothing donated from a local fancy dress retailer. It featured in a range of local media, which further supported their message about flu vaccination.

Tracy Lees at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust developed a promotional video, made cuddly flu bugs, devised incentive schemes, wrote regular trust communications (including a flu poem) and recruited peer vaccinators. Her team in occupational health have exceeded their 75 per cent vaccination ambition.

No one is saying the job is done. There is much more to do.

We don’t have firm biologically-led targets, as these were not considered appropriate for this virus in this context. But health trusts are creating their own targets to help sustain the momentum. The UK Government has also linked a vaccination target of 75 per cent to winter funding. Our aspiration is simply that it will become commonplace – having a flu vaccination will be the same as washing your hands to avoid infection.

Next winter, we expect to put an even greater emphasis on working with nursing and midwives, as well as expanding our work with national organisations. But most important of all, we need to recognise the aspects of the campaign that are working well, and continue to build on them.

Achieving cultural change on this scale within the world’s fourth-largest employer (the NHS), is a vast challenge that spans many work areas and tests many relationships. But it is happening.

It is a privilege to see others become enthused by these efforts and we are committed to making a difference locally. I hope people seek out our free resources online and see what might be useful for them. 

Follow @NHSflufighter for the latest news. More information is available at #flufighter and www.nhsemployers.org/flu