Council’s free jabs packs a punch against winter flu

Any move to reduce the annual misery of winter flu is not to be sneezed at but a new health initiative from Buckinghamshire County Council has brought welcome results.

While tens of thousands of non-emergency hospital operations had to be cancelled nationally this winter because of a surge in flu cases, the proportion of care home residents in Buckinghamshire who contracted flu, and the number who were hospitalised, has dropped compared to last year.

The figures, just released, follow a new scheme organised by the County Council to offer free flu vaccinations to care home residents and staff alike this winter.

The scheme, paid for from Buckinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group’swinter fund, reduced the barriers for staff and residents to be vaccinated by recruiting 24 local pharmacies to visit participating care homes across the county, making it easy for carers and residents to get a jab without having to travel.

Nearly a third of the 134 care providers who were contacted registered for the scheme and more than 300 staff and residents (213 staff and 120 residents) were vaccinated.

Buckinghamshire is one of the first councils to introduce the initiative of taking the jab to the care home through pharmacies. A few weeks into the roll-out of the vaccination programme NHS England announced its own £10m scheme to extend free vaccinations to care home staff.

Increase in flu jab uptake among care home staff protects them from getting flu. If the staff are healthy it protects their family and friends and also reduces the spread of flu virus among the care residents. In addition, this helps to increase the continuity of care and reduce sickness absenteeism.

The cost of the initiative was less than £3,000 and the feedback from the care homes was good. One care home manager told the council: “We found the programme very helpful and we were all flu free! If the programme is repeated this year, we would like to participate.”

Another said: “We found the service extremely helpful. Most of our staff were vaccinated, albeit we are a small team. For those that were, none have had the flu. Coincidence?”

Alongside the push to protect vulnerable care home residents from the flu, Buckinghamshire County Council also took the unusual step of offering a free flu jab to all its staff, and not just front-line staff. The uptake of flu jabs increased significantly compared to the last four years, meaning many more staff at one of Buckinghamshire’s largest employers were protected from the flu this year.

The county council also undertook a promotional campaign to promote flu vaccinations with those eligible for a free flu jab in the community. This year an extra 1,500 over 65’s and 6,300 people at risk due to long term conditions had the jab. There was a similar increase in the number of two-year-olds being vaccinated and an even larger increase in the number of three-year-olds protected.

Preventing flu in 2-3 year olds is also important because children with flu are often a way by which older people contract flu. This year over 13,000 2-3 year olds were vaccinated which is 49% of the total number of children in this age range.

Noel Brown, Buckinghamshire County Council’s cabinet member for Community Engagement and Public Health said: “The new initiative has been delivered in partnership with our CCG and local pharmacists to the most vulnerable people in our communities and their carers. It’s a great example of the County Council’s innovative thinking on keeping residents healthy and meeting their needs, in a way that is convenient for them.”