The onus is on staff in the HSE to get the flu vaccine and keep their vulnerable patients protected, insists ‘champion’ Martin Smith.
“From the general manager to the staff in the cafeteria, we must get the flu vaccine. We come into contact with so many people – high-risk people, pregnant women and old people. They need us to be on our best game,” explains Martin, who is a flu vaccine ‘champion’ in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda, educating his colleagues on the value of the vaccine and encouraging them to get it.
Martin took on the role of promoting the flu vaccine three years ago and has overseen a huge increase in the uptake of the vaccine by Lourdes staff.
“The previous year we had an 18pc take up. I got it up to 38 in the first year and last year we had 74.8pc. We are on target to exceed that this year. We have a much bigger staff now so it is a great chance to improve our numbers. At the minute, three out of four people are getting the vaccine. If we could replicate that around the country, that would be fantastic”
He explains that the biggest factor in improving the take-up is changing mindsets.
“After the swine flu vaccinations in 2008, attitudes towards vaccinations were thrown into the air because some people felt sick afterwards. But we have definitely made a difference here. We have great support and have a few champions that go around and ask colleagues ‘so did you get yours? A physio just came to me this week to say they had been promoting throughout their department and were 100pc behind it. It’s great to see people feeling passionate about it too,” says Martin.
He has spearheaded a very effective postering campaign to keep it fresh in staff minds.
“The feedback I have been getting is that my poster campaign is making a difference. I try to keep it current. For example, at the start of the campaign, I had posters saying that the flu season was here. At Halloween, I had some that said ‘Say boo to the flu’ and ‘There’s nothing scary about the flu vaccine’,” he says.
“Last week, I did a mock-up poster from the Usual Suspects. Now for Christmas, it will be something like ‘Don’t be on Santa’s naughty list this year’. It is about drawing people in and having a bit of a laugh with them, starting a conversation about it. You need to keep it light-hearted because you can’t force it.”
And the vaccine champions in the hospital have been making sure staff have no excuse not to get the vaccine by having clinics round the clock.
“We ensure that we are readily available to give the vaccine when it suits people. We have a clinic 7.30am to 4.30pm each day and we come in at weekends. We make sure it is available when people need it,” says Martin.
The Lourdes vaccine promotion team meet on a regular basis to discuss the campaign and see what’s working or what needs to be changed.
“We are constantly re-evaluating the campaign to make sure it stays fresh and the message is still getting out.
He was full of praise for the support given to the campaign by senior management and staff.
“Dr Justin Lowe, the infectious disease consultant, gave a talk to staff about the effects of the flu and the positive outcomes of the vaccine. 70 or 80 people turned up for that talk and we had people who definitely weren’t going to get the vaccine leave the talk and said ‘yeah, okay, I’ll get the vaccine’.
“I have the amazing support of my Director of Nursing Adrian Cleary. He has given me carte blanche to do what I need to do. The same is true of our GM Fiona Brady. Work like this needs to be led from the top and that really makes a difference.
“It really is all about teamwork. I am the figurehead or the catalyst but you can’t do anything without people themselves,” he adds.