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Flu Campaign – How are You Doing?
At this time of year influenza activity is usually at low levels and, whilst last year’s flu season was again less severe than some we’ve had we must remember that the flu virus is unpredictable in its nature. It’s impossible to predict the impact that flu might have this winter and we can never be sure of how many serious cases there might be because new strains have the potential to circulate each year with changeable intensity.
Patients often don’t think about it
Immunisation uptake in eligible people under the age of 65 has remained static for some years and there is an attempt every year to promote flu awareness and increase uptake. Public Health England have previously carried out research and found that many people are often accepting of the flu vaccine but simply don’t think of it, or get around to having it, despite our best efforts to promote our flu campaigns with colourful leaflets and magnificent bunting! This awareness guided Public Health towards a ‘behaviour first’ approach, targeting those who know they should get vaccinated but need encouragement to act and not put it off.
Our professional duty
As healthcare workers we must remember our professional duty to be immunised against common serious communicable diseases. Good infection control measures, although important in reducing the risk of influenza infection, are not sufficient alone in preventing the spread of flu, which can have a fatal impact on frail and vulnerable patients, and cause severe disruption in hospitals, care homes and communities.
A recent article in Pulse gave some really useful top tips to help boost patient uptake so that practices shouldn't have wasted vaccines at the end of the flu season:
- QOF targets – this the most obvious way of highlighting which patients in the target groups (diabetes, COPD, CHD and stroke) haven’t had their flu vaccine yet and practices should contact these patients to book them in as soon as possible.
- Other national targets – the over 65s; patients with neurological disease, asthma on inhaled steroids, immunosuppressed, chronic kidney disease; the housebound; residential and care homes; and pregnant ladies should also be contacted. Be proactive each year and contact those patients who are currently aged 64 but will be 65 by 31 March because they may not yet know they will now be eligible for a flu jab every year.
- Appointment availability – consider when flu clinics are offered so that they are available to patients who work during the day or care for someone who may need transport to get to the surgery since this may not be possible at certain times of the day. Children’s flu appointments should be offered outside of school hours and during school holidays wherever possible.
- Pharmacies – Pharmacies who immunise patients at risk are required to inform the patient’s GP practice by the next working day and Public Health England should be notified if this isn't happening. It will be interesting to see what impact this has had this year.
- Stock levels – although practices usually order the next year’s flu order in January or February with sale or return on vaccines not used. Keep a regular track of uptake in case additional stock is needed to meet the minimum targets.
- Collaboration – many practices are now working together on health campaigns and the flu campaign doesn't need to be any different. By sharing processes, procedures and vaccines it is possible this will lead to increased uptake and less waste.