The RCGP highlighted 'clear evidence' that unvaccinated frontline healthcare staff are 'frequently asymptomatic carriers of the flu virus' and risk passing it on to vulnerable patients.
NHS Improvement, which oversees hospital trusts, has said it expects 'near universal' uptake of the flu jab among healthcare staff ahead of the 2018/19 flu season.
The announcement follows a heavy flu season last winter - the most severe since a major outbreak in 2010/11 - that left GPs facing chronic pressure as workload spiked.
However, 'universal' uptake would represent a huge leap in flu vaccination among NHS staff. Data from Public Health England show that 68% of GPs, 73% of GP practice nurses and 70% of all frontline healthcare workers received the flu vaccination for the 2017/18 winter season. Uptake rose 6% overall among healthcare staff last winter compared with 2016/17.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘We absolutely support this drive to encourage NHS staff to have their flu jab this winter, and we would urge all members of the primary care team, including those who work in residential and care homes, to be vaccinated early in the season, for their own health, as well as their patients.
‘Just being healthcare professionals puts us at higher risk of contracting influenza as we mix with so many people, and there is now clear evidence that unvaccinated frontline NHS staff are frequently asymptomatic carriers of the flu virus, so are unaware that they are passing it on to vulnerable patients. Getting vaccinated not only protects yourself, but your colleagues and patients.
‘Flu puts an incredible amount of pressure on general practice and the wider NHS every year, so it’s important that we take whatever steps we can to stop the spread of the virus, in the best interests of ourselves and our teams, our patients, and the national health service.’
GPonline reported last week that GP leaders fear the upcoming flu season will be more ‘complex’ than in previous years, and could prove challenging for practices and patients.
NHS England has recommended different vaccines for different ‘at risk’ groups, and supplies of some vaccines will be subject to a ‘phased’ delivery process.
Additionally, it has been widely reported that the adjuvanted trivalent vaccine, recommended for the first time this year for patients aged 65 and over, does not protect against the B/Yamagata strain of flu (also known as ‘Japanese flu’) that claimed thousands of lives last winter.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘We are concerned about the impact for both patients and practices that the changes to the normal pattern of vaccine delivery will have this year. We are already hearing of practices that have been unable to meet the expectations of patients who have attended for immunisation, but practices have not had sufficient vaccine available.
‘PHE, NHS England and CCGs need to do more to explain to patients that this is not the fault of practices but due to the phased supplying of vaccine over which practices have no control.’