A SECOND wave of the coronavirus combined with winter flu could “bring the NHS to a grinding halt”, experts have claimed.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has called for flu jabs for everyone over the age of 50 and said that pressure on NHS staff may get worse before it gets better.
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Figures for the 2019/2020 winter flu season reveal that vaccine uptake among health workers, taken from all NHS trusts in England, ranged from 71 per cent to 86 per cent.
The group is now calling on the government to bring forward the usual workplace vaccine programmes as it believes there could be a second peak of Covid-19 in the winter season.
Pushing the programme forward they say, would mean that 100 per cent of health workers would be vaccinated against the flu.
This in turn would diminish their risk of becoming ill over the winter months.
The flu jab is available every winter on the NHS and is usually given to those over the age of 65 and pregnant women.
It is crucial that we learn the lessons from the last three months, as well as considering the additional challenges that future waves may bring if they coincide with winter flu
The jab helps protect against serious complications from the flu like pneumonia.
Those most at risk when it comes to developing severe flu symptoms include people with asthma, cancer or people who have had an organ transplant.
These would all be people who had originally been included on the coronavirus shielding list.
So far in the UK over 43,000 people have died from Covid-19 and the virus has put a huge strain on NHS resources.
While various vaccine trials are still ongoing, experts say that any vaccine that passes the test should also run alongside the flu jab.
The RCP said it also wants an urgent review of the potential benefit of providing the flu vaccine to everyone currently shielding.
It also questioned the possibility of vaccinating everyone over 50 if there are enough stocks.
Prisons and other settings should also get a dedicated flu vaccine programme, the college said.
Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the RCP, said: "With lockdown further loosening this weekend for many, there is no time to waste in ensuring that the NHS and social care are prepared for the very real potential of future Covid-19 waves.
"It is crucial that we learn the lessons from the last three months, as well as considering the additional challenges that future waves may bring if they coincide with winter flu."
He added that staff across the NHS are "nervous" about what lies ahead.
"We owe it to them to do everything we can to ensure that the system is ready to cope.
"It goes without saying that no clinician should ever be put in the situation again where they don't have the PPE (personal protective equipment) they need."
The RCP said a reservist support list of staff who can help should be produced in case the NHS gets overwhelmed.
This could include those who have retired, people taking a career break, clinical academics, and those who work outside of the NHS.
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