Healthcare workers who don't have flu injections could be risking patients' lives

09/19/05

Low flu vaccination rates among healthcare workers could be risking the lives of frail elderly patients and increasing winter pressures in UK hospitals, according to research published in the latest issue of Journal of Clinical Nursing.

Less than eight per cent of nurses and healthcare assistants surveyed in two Liverpool hospitals said they had annual flu injections.

29 per cent of the 144 healthcare workers who took part in the study said they didn't feel they needed to be vaccinated, 18 per cent were not aware of the vaccine and 11 per cent were concerned about the side effects.

"Vaccinating healthcare workers against flu can reduce staff sickness and winter pressures as well as reducing deaths among frail older patients" says Dr Helen Canning, who carried out her research at the University of Liverpool.

"Our study found that the main reason for poor vaccine uptake was a basic lack of knowledge and understanding of the vaccine, especially regarding benefits and side-effects.

"Many of the respondents appeared to demonstrate general apathy towards the flu vaccination.

"Almost half of the respondents were either not aware of the vaccine or did not think they needed it. And only 10 per cent knew that the benefits of the vaccine included protecting patients against the serious complications of flu.

"One encouraging finding from our study was that half of those who had not been vaccinated stated that they might be influenced to have the vaccine in future."

The findings were cross checked with figures from the Occupational Health Departments of the two hospitals. These showed that just over 10 per cent of hospital staff, including administration and clerical staff, had been vaccinated during the period surveyed.

Dr Canning and her co-researchers - Dr Jennifer Phillips and Specialist Registrar Stephen Allsup also looked at sick leave rates among the respondents.

They found that in the three months before the survey more than 51 per cent of respondents had taken sick leave because of a flu-like illness.

"If the vaccine uptake had been more widespread, illnesses due to the influenza virus could have been prevented" says Dr Canning. "This illness prevention, if repeated in all hospitals nationwide, could have a significant impact on ward staffing issues during the busy winter months when the incidence of flu is greatest."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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