Hospitals across London were today facing questions about whether they had offered frontline staff maximum protection against the worst flu outbreak in seven years.
Major trusts such as Barts Health, Imperial College Healthcare, St George’s, Guy’s and St Thomas and the Royal Free all offered employees the trivalent vaccine, as did London Ambulance Service.
The trivalent vaccine works against “Aussie flu” but is ineffective against the “Japanese flu” strain of the most prevalent Influenza B virus.
Trusts make strenuous efforts each year to encourage staff to receive a vaccine, to protect themselves and prevent them passing the virus between patients.
One frontline medic told the Standard: “I think it leaves a lot of healthcare workers unprotected. Trusts need to answer why they chose the tri – vaccinating staff, with all the associated risks, but only for 75 per cent maximum of the benefit.
“Would the admission rates have been lower, causing less pressure on system, if staff hadn’t been passing it round?”
Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust said it had ordered the trivalent vaccine 10 months ago after following Government advice. That advice changed last OCtober, and it would now order 15,000 doses of the quadrivalent vaccine in time for next winter.
Barts Health NHS Trust said: “We choose our vaccine months in advance of the colder weather so that it arrives in good time. When making this choice our first consideration is the advice of medical experts, and at that time the quadrivalent vaccine was recommended for use only in children.
“We therefore stocked trivalent, and, having vaccinated over 8,000 of our staff (55 per cent) we are pleased that national experts have confirmed that it remains effective in protecting our patients and our staff.”
Dr Fenella Wrigley, medical director at London Ambulance Service, said: “In line with official guidance from the World Health Organisation and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, we have offered the trivalent flu vaccination to our staff.”
The Royal Free said it continued to encourage staff who haven’t yet got vaccinated to do so “as this is their best chance of avoiding the flu and protecting their patients and their families from also getting the flu”.
Last week in England almost 600 patients were admitted to hospital with flu. Of these, 198 patients were admitted to intensive care units – taking the total to almost 1,000 since the start of winter. There have been 120 deaths.
Trusts such as London North West Healthcare, which runs Northwick Park and Ealing hospitals, and Barking, Havering and Redbridge, which runs Queen’s and King George, did offer staff the quadrivalent vaccine.
This is slightly more expensivet to the NHS – £8 rather than £5 – and protects against the B Yamagata “Japanese flu” strain in addition to the H3N2 “Aussie flu” strain.
The trivalent vaccine jab is commonly given to adults at GP surgeries, while children are administered a quadrivalent nasal spray.
Public Health England said seasonal flu activity levels continued to increase last week across the UK but the rate of increase was slowing.
Professor Paul Cosford, medical director of Public Health England, said: “In terms of hospital admission, this is the most significant flu season since the winter of 2010/11 and the preceding pandemic year of 2009 although it is not an epidemic.”
The Royal College of GPs said that the number of Londoners attending a doctor’s surgery with flu-like illness rose from 30.3 to 42.1 per 100,000 last week, compared with the first week of January, but remained below the national average of 53.1. The worst affected areas were the Midlands and East England.
Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology, University of Nottingham, said: “This is a bad year and some of the components of the trivalent vaccine might not have given the protection that we would have hoped for, but this is nothing more than a bad flu season, not helped by an aging population and an under-funded and creaking NHS.”
- An edited version of this story appears in tonight’s Evening Standard.