Researchers at the University of East Anglia are launching a project to increase the number of care home staff that take up the flu vaccine.
The £1.4 million project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), will test different ways of encouraging staff to take up the vaccine.
The team hope that their work will help reduce the number of cases of flu in care homes, and importantly – save lives.
The three-year FluCare project is hosted by NHS Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group and involves collaboration with the universities of Leicester and Liverpool, Norwich Clinical Trials Unit and organisations including NHS England and NHS Improvement, the National Care Forum, Care England, Boots UK and Day Lewis Pharmacy.
Dr Amrish Patel, from UEA’s School of Economics, said: “Every year flu, caught from staff and visitors, causes serious illness and death in care home residents.
“While vaccines work in most people, there are always some for whom they do not work. That means that if we give vaccines to care home residents, some will still not be protected.
“The best way to protect residents is therefore to vaccinate care home staff as well. But while the World Health Organisation recommends that over three quarters of care home staff should be vaccinated, in the UK – less than half of staff take up the jab. And this puts residents at higher risk.”
Prof David Wright, from UEA’s School of Pharmacy, said: “We have found three reasons for why staff do or do not get vaccinated. These are – how easily they can access vaccines, how important their manager sees staff vaccination, and their own personal attitudes and beliefs about vaccination.
“We want to find out which approaches work best to increase the number of staff being vaccinated. We hope that what we learn can also be used to improve Covid vaccine uptake.”
The research team will investigate a range of approaches, such as community pharmacists vaccinating staff in the care home and offering incentives to managers.
They will work with care homes and pharmacies across East Anglia, London and the East Midlands, and test the approaches in 10 care homes during flu season.
Prof Wright said: “This will show us how the ideas work in practice, how to best collect data and what happens in groups who carry on with service as usual.
“Learning from this, we will refine the service and decide which mixture of approaches to study on a larger scale. We will do this by carefully listening to those involved and by looking at the quality of information we received.”
The team will go on to work with 70 care homes with low vaccination levels to see how their approaches improve vaccine uptake and whether the health of residents improved.
“We will also look at the economic impact of the interventions we propose to see if they will help save money for the NHS,” added Dr Patel.
“And we will listen to people involved to find out what did and did not work to learn how to improve the service.
“Finally, we will use our findings to develop a toolkit. This will tell people about our new service and encourage them to use it. While we do this research, we will work closely with residents and relatives. They will help us design and manage the studies, collect information, look at the results and present them to the outside world.”