“People aged 65 or over are more likely to have a bad case of flu or develop a serious complication, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
We know more people attend A&E with flu in winter months or are admitted to intensive care units and some of these Londoners are elderly people from care homes in the capital.
During this busy time, care home and A&E staff can often end up suffering with flu themselves – resulting in care homes and wards having to close from lack of staff.
Every year a few care homes are closed to new admissions due to a flu outbreak, which means more elderly people are delayed in hospital.
In late December last year, one case in particular showed us just how distressing flu can be for care home residents and how disruptive it can be for the health and care system.
After becoming unwell, eleven residents from one care home in London had to be taken to A&E by ambulances, where they were diagnosed with flu.
The same hospital that received them had to close two wards due to an outbreak of flu and lack of staff.
At the same time, the care home staff became ill with the symptoms of flu, putting elderly residents at risk and affecting their ability to care for them.
As a nurse hearing about this incident, I was struck by the lack of forward planning that had led to this situation as there is a lot we can do to protect people from the flu.
So what can be done to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again?
Healthy London Partnership and NHS England (London) have been working hard to make sure that this winter we avoid care home residents and staff suffering from flu unnecessarily.
As part of this, we have been working with partners to take some clear actions.
First and foremost, all care home staff and carers deserve the same protection from flu as hospital staff; which is why this year they are being offered their own free flu jab.
Coupled with the fact that care home residents are already eligible for free flu jabs, it is hoped that this will help reduce the spread of flu in care homes.
We’re encouraging all care home managers and staff in London, including catering and cleaning staff, to get their free flub jab now and are working to raise awareness with them.
Domiciliary care staff who work with elderly people are also eligible for the free flu jab.
Care home staff and domiciliary care workers just have to show their staff badge at their local pharmacy to get their free flu jab.
This is the first time they have been offered a free flu jab in England.
Care home staff and domiciliary care workers are also reminded that if they need support from a GP, and can’t reach the patient’s registered GP practice, they should dial NHS 111 and press *6 to be put through to a GP.
London care homes identified as high users of A&E or ambulance services are being offered targeted support to get them ready for winter, including on-site flu jabs for residents and staff.
Care homes have also been issued with simple guidance on how to prevent the spread of infection – including effective hand washing.
The guidance also aims to make sure that any care home resident with flu-like illness can stay in their comfortable warm bed, and, where indicated, be prescribed antivirals and other medicines.
Unless a hospital admission is needed, GPs should attend the care home to treat the patient, rather than moving ill elderly residents out of their home to be treated.
We will be reviewing these very simple measures throughout the winter, to make sure they are benefiting care home residents, staff and the NHS in London.
We hope that offering care home staff and domiciliary care workers in London a free flu jab will help keep both them and the elderly people they care for safer from flu this winter”.
Follow the flu campaign on Twitter at #influenza17