Some 300,000 fewer frontline NHS staff had the winter flu vaccine last year than in 2019 and 2020, with huge variation in uptake among trusts, HSJ analysis shows.
Both NHS England and the UK Health Security Agency have issued their latest uptake figures, using different methods, but both show a drop on previous years.
UKHSA figures, which go back more than 20 years, show that as of the end of December 2023, there were 283,000 fewer vaccines given than in 2020, when uptake peaked due to high concern about the first covid “winter wave”.
There were also 283,000 fewer given than at the end of 2019 – and the number of frontline NHS staff has since grown significantly – meaning the uptake rate has plummeted from 68.5 per cent at the end of 2019 to 42 per cent at the end of 2023.
Meanwhile, the NHSE operational figures, which run up to the end of last month, show uptake at 44.3 per cent, with significant variation between regions.
Only one region – the South West – has vaccinated more than half of its frontline staff and the rate in London, the poorest performing, is below 40 per cent
It comes as flu takes a big toll on health services: NHSE said 2,226 patients with flu were in hospital each day last week — up 70 per cent on December, and 75 per cent higher than the same week last year. UKHSA monitoring suggests community flu infections, and admissions, are continuing to climb, to a later and wider – but likely lower – peak than the very high rates seen in December 2022.
Both the UKHSA and NHSE figures show huge variation in flu vaccine uptake between trusts, ranging between more than two-thirds of staff jabbed, and just a tenth (see table below for full NHSE and UKHSA figures).
However, several trusts with the lowest rates, approached by HSJ, have disputed both sets of figures.
University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust – the lowest at just 11.9 per cent vaccinated on NHSE data – cited internal figures showing 42.9 per cent uptake as of January.
South East Coast Ambulance Service FT, which is second lowest in the NHSE data at just 14.1 per cent, said its internal figure was 68.8 per cent.
The UKHSA figures show Essex Partnership University FT on the lowest rate, at 10.7 per cent. The trust did not provide its own figures to HSJ but claimed UKHSA figures excluded those vaccinated at their own GP practice, and were incomplete until final submissions in March. The UKHSA’s own analysis shows reported rates rarely increase much after December.
The Dudley Group FT said NHSE’s figure of 30.1 per cent was correct and disputed UKHSA’s 18.1 per cent, which would put it among the lowest.
An NHSE spokesperson said: “The NHS has continued to make it as easy as possible for frontline staff to get vaccinated against flu and covid, with more sites than ever before offering the vaccines this year and more people being vaccinated for both in the same appointment, making it more convenient.”
It comes amid a wider vaccination crisis, with lower uptake than pre-covid across a range of programmes, including MMR, which has enabled a major upsurge in measles outbreaks.
The London, North West and Midlands regions were also approached for comment.