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Caring for older people during the flu season

Caring for older people during the flu season
27th November 2009

With so much focus on swine flu, there are concerns that people may forget about the seasonal strain of the illness. This is despite the fact that Department of Health figures show that around 8,000 people die every year in England and Wales as a result of seasonal flu.

On top of this, up to 15 per cent of the population will get the illness in the average year. It can prove to be more of a worry for those over the age of 65, as they are at greater risk of developing serious complications as a result of the virus. Fortunately, they are eligible for a free seasonal flu jab from their care home or their local GP.

It only takes one vaccination in the year for those in the at-risk groups to get the extra protection and the DH, as well as other organisations, encourage such people to get the treatment. Many over the age of 65 are getting the jab, with 74.3 per cent of them in the south-west of England having the seasonal flu injection in 2008-2009.

However, Tim Hammond, managing director of Barchester Healthcare, has warned that seasonal flu could become a silent killer.

"With much of the current media focus on swine flu vaccinations, it can be easy to forget the importance of immunisation for seasonal flu - especially for the older population," Mr Hammond commented.

He pointed to the fact that last winter just 16.5 per cent of NHS staff agreed to have the flu vaccination, even though research has shown that the immunisation of healthcare workers has the potential to save the lives of vulnerable adults.

Mr Hammond said that Barchester acknowledges the danger that seasonal flu poses and places "huge organisational focus" on providing the flu vaccination for the 24,000 people living and working in its care homes. Last winter, 30 per cent of Barchester staff had the vaccination - almost double that of the NHS, he said.

"With the current emphasis on swine flu jab uptake by NHS staff there is a danger that staff seasonal flu vaccinations will remain worryingly low - and seasonal flu deaths even higher," he added.

So what steps does Barchester take? Susan Munro, clinical development nurse at the organisation, noted that in the firm's care homes there are 'flu champions', who have information on the illness and can help "dispel all the myths" over the vaccination. Additionally, Barchester starts work on counteracting the illness in summer so that adequate preparations are made, she explained.

Ms Munro revealed she has already received feedback that uptake of the vaccine is better this year than it was in 2008: "I think that is possibly because staff from last year are beginning to talk about the benefits of having had the flu jab. So far, we're really doing well."

She pointed out that Barchester CONTRIBUTES TO VALUABLE "herd immunity", which provides residents with greater protection.

"As we all know, elderly people and those with a compromised immune system, though they may get seasonal flu vaccine, it doesn't work AS well on them. If staff going into the home are also protected against seasonal flu, then the residents' chances of picking it up are lessened," Ms Munroe explained.

The clinical development nurse also noted that Barchester Healthcare works in partnership with Flu Fighters, part of The European Vaccination Group (UK). They provide the Patient Group Directive and training, which allows identified Barchester staff to vaccinate staff in their own care home and other Barchester homes in the surrounding area.

Appropriate training is provided through The European Vaccination Group's partners ECG Training for a small group of Barchester regional flu champions to ensure they can recognise and treat an anaphylactic reaction, even though this is very rare.

There is plenty of information out there on how to protect from various forms of flu and it seems that taking actions such as those used by Barchester can help minimise the risk of spreading the virus within care homes.

Please click here for more information about Barchester's approach to hospitality.