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We are now mid-flu-season – staff vaccinations in excess of 75%

Update from Dr Nigel Murray, Chief Executive

Very recently a staff member refused to comply with the DHB’s Vaccinations for Health Care Workers Policy (Flu vaccination policy). And as a consequence, unfortunately, this person’s employment was terminated. The DHB will not comment on individual cases but did follow the HR progressive performance processes.

You may also be aware of recent media attention (NZ Herald 1 August) regarding Waikato DHB’s flu and mask policy. While I am very pleased to see this debate roll out into the public domain there have been some inaccuracies in the reporting. These include statements around the number of nurses that have been suspended for refusing to comply with policy. To date (2 August), one staff member has been dismissed and there have been a small number of suspensions with a mixture of staff groups. These staff have since returned to work and are compliant with the policy.

The DHBs preference is that employees get vaccinated for influenza virus as this provides the strongest protection for patients, colleagues, and members of the public. Employees who are not vaccinated for the influenza virus should wear a face mask in a clinical (patient care) location during the declared flu season in order to protect their patients.

As health care professionals, we have an obligation to our patients and their safety. Influenza associated deaths account for approximately 400 New Zealanders each year, according to a study published by the University of Otago (Baker, Kessaram, 2014). That is significantly more than our annual national road deaths in recent years.

The vaccination policy has achieved widespread acceptance, and has contributed to a significant increase in the number of staff getting vaccinated.
I would also like to acknowledge the importance of those who did not vaccinate but choose to wear a mask to protect themselves and their patients.

When considering that our employee numbers are in excess of 6,500, the reality is that almost all staff are getting on with doing their duties and they recognise that the intent of the policy is to provide a safer clinical environment for our patients and staff.

Currently, we have reached in excess of 75% of our total staff numbers in comparison to last year where at the conclusion of the staff vaccination programme we only achieved 53%. Because of this policy our wards and services are much safer to support the prevention of our vulnerable patients from catching the flu whilst in our care.

The vaccination is still available and I strongly encourage those who have not been vaccinated to do so.

As I previously announced, we will complete a post flu season evaluation of the new policy and I will seek staff and unions feedback to consider any improvements on the policy moving forward.

While vaccination rates have improved, which is very positive, the overarching goal is to protect our patients and staff from getting the flu.

Read Waikato DHB’s policy here:

Vaccinations for Health Care Workers Policy

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