This year’s flu strain is potentially the worst we have seen in two decades. The NHS has a long history of advance planning to deal with flu and has significantly increased its focus on this year’s risk.
Flu occurs every winter in the UK and is a key factor in NHS winter pressures. It impacts on patients, particularly at-risk groups, including people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, leading to unplanned hospital admissions.
- Australia experienced the largest flu outbreak in around 20 years and it also started earlier than usual. The strain which was circulating in Australia (H3N2), particularly affects older people over 80 and to a lesser extent young children aged five to nine years.
- In anticipation of a similar flu outbreak, staff vaccinations have been encouraged through incentive payments. Last year, just under two thirds (63%) of frontline healthcare workers were vaccinated – an increase of 30% on the previous year, equivalent to an additional 120,000 staff. The target this year is 75%.
- Trusts have been developing their own approaches to plan for flu. For example, in Luton and Bedfordshire a community nursing caseload flu vaccination service is being introduced, which will ensure they vaccinate all patients on their caseload and will encourage carers to have their jab at the GP practice.
- Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was the first trust in the country to have vaccinated 75% of their frontline staff for the second year running.
The NHS has significantly increased its focus on the risk from flu this year.