Expanded flu vaccination programme kicks off NHS 'Stay Well This Winter' campaign

Woman receiving a vaccination

A new health campaign which offers guidance on how to stay well over the winter months has been launched by Public Health England and NHS England.

A major new addition to this year's campaign is the expansion of the flu vaccination programme for children, which has been widened to include three million children aged between 2 and 6.

Young children, including those in year 1 and 2 of primary school, are now eligible for a free nasal flu vaccine, in addition to the usual adult at-risk groups.

The vaccination programme has been expanded to include young children because a pilot scheme carried out last year found that it also offers enhanced protection to the wider family, including parents, grandparents and other children.

Vaccination will be offered via 17,000 schools across England, and parents are being urged to submit a consent form to their child's school. Alternatively, in areas where the school programme is not running, parents can arrange for the vaccine to be administered at their GP surgery or pharmacy.

Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, Professor Dame Sally Davies says: "Let me be crystal clear – flu kills. For many people it is an unpleasant illness but for the most vulnerable in society – small children, the elderly, those with long-term health problems and for pregnant women – it is extremely dangerous and can be lethal.

"Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from catching flu and I would urge everyone who is offered the vaccine free on the NHS to get vaccinated."

In addition to the group outlined above, a free vaccine is available to the following people, who are deemed to be more at-risk of developing complications of flu:

  • Pregnant women
  • Anyone aged 65 or over
  • People with a chronic condition, including asthma and diabetes
  • Carers and those who work with vulnerable people.

Stay Well this Winter

Winter Berries and Snow

As well as flu vaccination, the NHS campaign is also urging anyone aged over 65 and those with chronic health conditions to get ready for other winter problems, including coughs and colds, cold weather snaps and seasonal pharmacy closures by heeding the following advice:

  • Make sure you receive your free flu jab if eligible
  • Stay warm – keep your home heated to at least 18 degrees if possible. A cold environment can worsen heart and respiratory conditions
  • If you start to feel unwell, even if it appears to be a cough or a cold, then seek advice and help from your local pharmacist
  • Make sure you collect prescription medicines before pharmacies close for Christmas
  • Always take your prescribed medicines as directed.

Lend a hand

Lend a Hand

PHE is also reminding the public to be aware of friends, family and neighbours who may need additional help completing everyday tasks during the winter months, such as grocery shopping and travelling to appointments, particularly during any spells of snow and ice when slips and falls are more likely.

Keith Willett, National Director for Acute Care for NHS England says it is "critical we do what we can to help others stay well". He adds: "The elderly compose the largest group admitted to hospital in the winter. Half live alone and one third never or only occasionally socialise with family or friends. They, as a result are slow to seek help, and once ill often get too unwell. This is a golden opportunity for us to look out for our neighbours and ensure they get any help they need."

'Duty of care'

All frontline NHS staff will also be offered a free flu vaccination in order to protect themselves and patients from infection. However, last year only 54% were vaccinated. Professor Dame Sally Davies adds: "NHS staff have a duty of care to do everything they can to protect patients – that includes getting vaccinated against the flu so they don’t pass it on. I urge every healthcare worker to make sure they get the jab."

According to PHE, the NHS has strengthened its winter planning this year and has allocated funding to local healthcare systems via Clinical Commissioning Groups, in order to ensure urgent and emergency care services are sustainable throughout the year.

PHE says that eight areas across the country are trialling new approaches to delivering urgent care, with NHS 111 and GP out of hours services combining to provide what has been described as a 'new front door' to health care services.

It is hoped the new scheme will offer improved access to a 24/7 assessment, advice and treatment service.

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