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'Selfish' NHS staff risk infecting patients

Some frontline healthcare staff choose not to have a seasonal flu vaccination for fear it will "give them flu", said a government immunisation expert.

Just one in three (34.7%) healthcare workers in England were vaccinated against flu last year.

Immunisation levels among staff varied widely between PCTs, with one showing as low as 10% and another reaching the "high 90s" said Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisations for the NHS.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer of the NHS, branded those doctors and nurses that fail to get vaccinated "selfish".

"It is selfish of healthcare workers to not only fail to protect themselves but their patients from potentially infecting them [with flu]," she said.

Professor Salisbury claims there are a whole "basket of problems" preventing doctors and nurses from having a flu vaccination.

They range from not viewing vaccines as "important enough" and not having the time, to believing the myth that the vaccine will cause flu.

"I find it quite a dilemma that [healthcare workers] will give advice to their patients and don't see the need to protect themselves, their families and their patients," he said.

In light of the low uptake of flu vaccines among frontline healthcare staff, NHS Employers is to launch the first ever national flu vaccination campaign for NHS workers.

"By working together we can achieve enough vaccinations to dramatically reduce the current high risk of flu spreading within the NHS," said Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers.

"This campaign will drive up vaccination rates by explaining it is safe, showing how important it is and helping local organisations to deliver jabs quickly and conveniently.

"We want staff vaccinations to eventually become as commonplace in the NHS as washing your hands."

The World Health Organization has advised H1N1, H3N2 and flu B strains will hit the UK this winter - the same strains as last year

In a bid to ensure the shortages seen last year are not repeated, the NHS has ordered an extra two million vaccines, bringing the total available to 16.7 million.

This includes a 400,000 reserve, dubbed an "insurance policy" by Salisbury, which will be centrally held and distributed as and when they are needed.

Following guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the NHS will again target three 'risk groups': those aged 65 and over, pregnant women and people with certain underlying health problems.

Last year 72.8% of those aged 65 and over received the vaccine. This is compared with 38% of all pregnant women and a 50% immunisation rate in the third 'risk group'.

The controversial decision not to run a national advertising campaign has drawn criticism from the British Medical Association (BMA).

"The BMA believes that it is essential that at risk groups understand the importance of having the flu vaccine," said a BMA spokesperson.

"In the absence of a national campaign, it is essential that local areas develop systems to target these groups."

Despite acknowledging the boost in the number of pregnant woman thanks to media reports publicising the flu vaccine, both Davies and Salisbury defended the government's decision.

"People listen to their GPs not the government," said Davies.

"Evidence has shown that while advertising creates awareness, people are more likely to get vaccinated at the recommendation of their GP."

NHS Employers

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"Absolutely not. The large meta-analysis performed have shown that the flu vaccine has not changed hospitalisation or death rates from flu; efficacy (antibody response) does not equal effectiveness and the vaccine comes with a price tag of adjuvants and preservatives that are known problems. As a physician and as a trained disaster medical manager, I never ceased to be amazed at the blind faith the system maintains in the flu vaccine. We'd be better off handing out vitamin D. At least the studies show that is effective" - Toni Bark, Chicago

"Read a package insert and you will see something like this in it: 'there have been no controlled trials demonstrating a decrease in influenza disease after vaccination with FLULAVAL." in other words, they don't have any proof that the flu shot even you're basically just poisoning yourself every year. How about you make sure your vitamin d levels are adequate and practice good handwashing instead. My husband will be one of the 'selfish' ones this year. He will be wearing a mask instead of getting a flu shot. Adults can get autism too...but they call it Alzheimers. Can't wait to see
the epidemic of early onset Alzheimers that this country will see now that they are recommending a flu shot every year for every person. STUPID!!!" - Name and address supplied

"Yes, it's a duty of care" - Elaine Hawkins, Swindon

"I cannot believe I am reading comments from health professionals! The same professionals that base their skill and knowledge on medical research and sound nursing values. The flu vaccination is said to give good protection if not 100% to any individual and if more NHS staff were to protect
themselves, they will be protecting their vulnerable patients too. Choice is not the issue here! We owe our patients a duty of care and should set a good example, so stop moaning and get vaccinated now!" - Yodah Galloway, Norfolk

"We are selfless in every aspect of our jobs, and selfish now because of our freedom of choice" - Elizabeth, Highland

"Interesting that because I happen to be a nurse I do not have the freedom of choice accorded to other UK subjects. According to Dame Davies I am selfish. The interesting thing is she sees fit to scotch over all the good and altruistic things that healthcare practitioners do as she has a bee in her bonnet. Is that not a little arrogant and bombastic. Unfortunately we live in a society where trampling over people is rewarded. I sugget that if Sally Davies does not like me not having a flu jab she either sues me or reports me as an unfit practitioner; that would be the professional and adult thing to do. Name calling is childish and achieves nothing other than causing me to question people's attitudes" - Tim, Hull 

"Being a frontline health worker I choose to accept the flu vac, but do not appreciate colleagues being branded selfish for making their informed decision. Surely they have the same rights as non health professionals" - Yvette Bayley, West Midlands

"Nurses 'selfish'? Whatever does she mean. People worried about getting flu can immunise themselves. Why is it that nurses who chose not to get immunised are called selfish for exercising their rights. Vaccination is a two way street. Getting vaccinated does not always prevent you getting the flu. As in the case of my dear friend and workmate. It just means you may not get the strain you were immunised against. However you can't immunise against all strains" - Angela Oji, Manchester

"I am currently in work with 'flu, as I work alone and it would be very difficult to replace me at short notice. I have the vaccination every year, but 'flu starts before the vaccine is available. Is there a reason why it cannot come out earlier?" - Rita Fellows, Cardiff

"NO, it's my choice and on a purely selfish note as I have already been branded it, I deserve time off the same as any other person (if I get flu). The only reason we may 'infect' others is because we are made to feel selfish if we take time off when we are sick and come into work! Again, no care for the carers" - Rosie, Hampshire

"I was under the impression we lived in a democracy - whatever happened to freedom of choice/informed decision?" - Jan, Cirencester

"What an appalling statement. So I am considered selfish as I 'choose' not to have the vaccine am I? I don't have an issue over time, our Occ Health Dept do ward walking, I dont view the vaccine as unimportant, I don't believe that it will give me flu but what I do view, believe and have issue with is that I have a choice. My choice is not to have it and I don't appreciate being called selfish because I have opted to choose not to have it" - Jo, Herefordshire

"No. Whatever happened to 'informed choice'? They may be aware that, frankly, current flu vaccines just aren't very effective" - David, Cheshire

"Surely choice for staff needs to be considered. We already are dictated to by government in various areas surely being able to make an informed choice as an individual as to whether we want the injection or not should come into play. We give information to patients who then decide on info given whether to have the injection or not so why cant staff have the same
choice?" - Sheila Watkinson, Lincolnshire

"Harsh words - Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer of the NHS, branded those doctors and nurses that fail to get vaccinated 'selfish'. How nice - could she do this for parents who fail to have their children vaccinated for childhood immunisations too - no course not - they would not appreciate being called 'selfish'!" - Ellen, Somerset