Every well-organised care home will already have its programme of winter flu vaccination in place, ideally for both service users and staff. However, not all service users are willing or able to undergo vaccination and, particularly at times when visitor numbers are high, such as during the Christmas and New Year periods, care homes are at high risk of outbreaks of flu and other respiratory illnesses.
As part of your duty of care to your service users, you have a responsibility to minimise the risks to them from infectious outbreaks. For this reason, it’s important that you know what steps you should be taking to safeguard them during the high-risk winter months so read on to find out more about the measures you can take to reduce the risks of flu, should it strike.
Although the flu season is already under way, it’s not too late to encourage residents and staff to obtain vaccinations from their GP or local pharmacy if they have not already done so. This year, the NHS is offering free vaccination to all social care staff and even for those who may have missed out on the initial round of vaccinations – it’s not too late to obtain protection. However, if a flu outbreak does occur within your service, it’s important to act promptly to prevent its spread.
5-Step Plan to Tackle a Flu Outbreak within Your Service
- Always seek medical advice: If two or more service users are experiencing flu-like symptoms (such as: a temperature of over 37.8 C, cough, runny nose, wheezing, sore throat or shortness of breath), inform your local Public Health England (PHE) who will provide immediate advice. PHE will work closely with you and your local GPs to help identify the source of the outbreak and provide expert guidance.
- Promote effective handwashing: Reinforce to all staff and visitors the importance of good hand hygiene by providing liquid soap and disposable hand towels at every sink. Providing additional supplies of alcohol hand rub at convenient, high traffic locations can also enable additional opportunities for hand hygiene.
- Focus on cleaning and hygiene: Ensure disposable tissues and no-touch bins are available and provide sputum pots for affected service users. Increase the frequency of hard surface cleaning by ensuring that lockers and tables are sanitised regularly and that hoists and other communal equipment are cleaned after each use.
- Limit exposure: If advised by PHE, temporarily close your service to new admissions and ensure all visitors, particularly visiting health care professionals, are informed of the outbreak before entering the premises so that unnecessary visits can be eliminated. Exclude any symptomatic staff or visitors until fully recovered to reduce the opportunities for person to person spread.
- Isolate affected service users: Encourage those service users affected by the flu virus to stay in their rooms wherever possible whilst symptomatic and avoid attendance at any non-essential external appointments or activities. High use areas, such as dining rooms and lounges, present a particularly high risk of transmission and any service user suspected of having flu should be discouraged from visiting these areas.
For more on managing flu and other common health issues in care service users, read Care Quality Matters. We offer a 30-day free trial of our newsletter for Registered Managers – which comes with loads of downloadable tools and resources to help you provide the best possible standards of care.