My first-hand experience of being an at risk patient - and the dangers of contracting flu

Ruth Warden

For the last six years I have led the team who run the flu fighter campaign to encourage NHS staff to have the flu vaccination.  We have busted myths, held conferences, given out awards, shared best practice and celebrated increased uptake.

But this year is different, I won’t be in meetings with Public Health England discussing the different strains of flu, I won’t be debating with the Department of Health ways to encourage more staff to have the flu vaccine.  No, this year is different because I am a patient.

I am an “at risk” patient. This year I will be having my flu jab because I am at risk of getting flu. This year I have cancer.

This year I will sit in clinics with other “at risk” patients queueing to see my consultant. This year I will wait each month, sometimes each week to give blood to find out how much the cancer drugs have suppressed my immune system.  This year I will go to the chemotherapy ward with other patients as they receive chemotherapy, hooked up to a variety of drug cocktails designed to attack cancer.  This year I will visit the pharmacy every month to get my next prescription of drugs.

This year I feel more vulnerable than ever. I know that flu is dangerous and can kill. This year I will have my flu jab. If I’m fighting so hard to stop the cancer getting me I don’t want to be caught out by flu.

NHS hospitals and staff seem so keen to stop the spread of infection, hand gel is everywhere and is used regularly. I watch the staff wash their hands multiple times. There are notices up asking visitors not to enter wards if they think that they have an infection.

And yet 1 in 3 NHS staff do not get the flu vaccination.

This year I will ask each NHS member of staff I come into contact with if they have had their flu jab and I will ask what the uptake figure is for the whole area, but I am totally at a loss to understand why NHS staff behave in such a contradictory way.

Some of the reasons I’ve heard why NHS staff don’t have their flu jab:

"I don’t like needles" – well, no one particularly delights in having needles put in them, given a choice I would rather not have the multiple injections I have each month, but I have no choice.  If I can go through what I’m going through, I’m sure one small injection isn’t a lot to ask?

"It might give me flu" – no, it won’t, but you might have flu and pass it on to me. As someone with a suppressed immune system and rather nasty disease, having flu would be a whole lot worse for me!

"I don’t have time" – hmmm, you make time to wash your hands? Is this any different.

I don’t want staff to treat me wearing masks, but I don’t want them to pass on an infection to me either.  They are trying so hard to keep me alive and keep me well, why would they risk passing on flu that could ruin all their hard work? If I am going to have the flu jab, is it too much to ask that all NHS staff do as well? Let’s make this year different. Protect yourself and those around you – have the flu jab.

Ruth's blog has been shared as part of #jabathon. Find out more about #jabathon and how to get involved on the #jabathon webpage.

Read more of Ruth's blog to join her on her journey to recovery.

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