By Jane Ellison and Alistair Burt
As we head towards winter, we want to express our thanks to you and all in the sector for the vital work you do. It’s truly valued and appreciated here. But with winter, comes a challenge.
Flu kills. We know that flu was a major cause of excess deaths in England and Wales last winter, not least because the strain of the virus that circulated most widely was one that particularly hits older people.
Providers urged to act
We are calling on the care sector to do all you can to make sure that staff and service users are protected against the flu virus. We are urging providers to make sure their staff are vaccinated in order to protect them and prevent the spread of the virus to vulnerable people in their care, other care staff and to their own family.
We can’t know for sure which flu viruses will circulate this winter. What we do know is that any kind of flu is more serious in certain groups including older people and many younger people with underlying health conditions, even those who manage their conditions well.
It is because of these risks, that people in these groups are routinely offered the flu vaccine every winter. Vaccination offers the best protection against flu. It is not perfect but usually provides a high level of protection. Even if you do still get the flu this could make all the difference between a serious case that means you have to go to hospital, or a much milder illness.
Health at risk
Unfortunately not all people who can benefit from flu vaccination take up the offer. This puts their own health at risk, as well as that of their family and friends. We urge them all to do so.
Flu is highly infectious and can spread very easily. It can be particularly a problem in residential care, where people are living together. A wide range of individuals in various settings within the community are dependent on care workers, who provide vital services to those in need. While we want to protect people most vulnerable to the effects of flu, it is even better if we can prevent them from being exposed to the infection in the first place.
More than anything else, however, health and care workers can further protect the people they care for, for whom the flu could be deadly. As the health and care sector is also vital, especially during the winter months, it is in everyone’s interest if staff are fit and able to work.
By being vaccinated, care workers will significantly reduce the risk that they pass the flu virus on to their patients. And we want to support care homes and care workers in achieving this goal. That is why we hosted a high level summit recently with key leaders from the care sector so that we could hear first-hand the challenges that the sector faces, learn examples of good practice and success, and identify the support needed so that we can beat flu by working together.
Jane Ellison is public health minister and Alistair Burt is minister of state for community and social care