Care home staff should be strongly encouraged to take up the flu vaccine this winter – according to experts at the University of East Anglia.
Better uptake across all workers, including cooks, cleaners, and administrative staff, would not only help slow the spread of the virus among residents, but reduce the impact of sick leave among a workforce already at crisis point.
Dr Amrish Patel, from UEA’s School of Economics, is leading a £1.4 million ‘FluCare’ project to increase the number of care home staff that take up the flu vaccine.
He said: “At the moment we know that only around 30 per cent of care home staff take up the flu vaccine. This contrasts with the World Health Organisation target of 75 per cent.
“This is a big problem, because it means that vulnerable residents are being put at risk even if they have been vaccinated themselves, because their immune systems are poorer.
“Having the vaccination doesn’t stop carers and care home staff from getting the flu but it means that it’s more likely to be a milder and short illness, which in turn reduces the likelihood of passing it on to residents who are more vulnerable.
“Having the vaccination provides an extra layer of protection for the residents. It’s a belt and braces approach.
“This applies not only to the carers but to other people working in care homes, including the cleaners, cooks, maintenance, administrative staff, and managers.
“We know that the care home sector is also under immense pressure. Better uptake of the flu vaccine would help minimise disruption caused by staff sickness this winter,” he added.
The three-year FluCare project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and in collaboration with the University of Leicester, will test different ways of encouraging staff to take up the vaccine.
The team hope that their work will identify and overcome the barriers to flu vaccination which in turn will reduce illness in care home residents and staff.
And they are looking for care homes across England to take part.
Dr Patel said: “We have already spoken to care home managers, staff and residents to find out about the barriers that make it difficult for staff to get vaccinated.
“Using this information, we have developed a package of measures that includes staff-focused flu vaccination clinics in care homes, and videos and posters to raise awareness. We are also investigating whether a financial incentive, for care homes that hit their flu vaccination target, would help - just like NHS organisations already receive.
“The next step is that we will be working with care homes to evaluate which measures work best, and we are looking for care homes to take part.”
To find out more about taking part in the FluCare trial visit www.flucare.co.uk or contact Jen Pitcher in the FluCare Recruitment team on 07795126728 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
The project is hosted by Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System – which is made up of NHS organisations, councils, public services and voluntary and community partners, working together to help people lead longer, healthier and happier lives.