The flu vaccine should be mandatory for frontline health staff, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland has urged.
The college is calling for mandatory vaccination because it is the only intervention to date that has been proven to achieve vaccine rates of more than 95%.
The vaccine uptake for the 2017/18 was reported to be 45% and a new target of 60% has been set for the current flu season.
Uptake has generally been higher in larger hospitals and highest in children's hospitals, at about 58%.
Studies have shown that flu infection occurs in about one in five healthcare workers, a rate that is higher than in other workers.
A report – Influenza Vaccination of Healthcare Workers, published by the college states that the needs of the patient population must take priority over the personal choice of the individual healthcare worker.
The dean of the college's faculty of occupational medicine, Dr Blánaid Hayes, said that despite initiatives introduced in recent years to try to encourage voluntary vaccination rates in healthcare workers remained far too low.
“We are proposing that all healthcare workers working in high risk-areas – intensive care, cancer wards, emergency departments and other areas attended by immunocompromised patients, be immunised well in advance of the winter season when influenza infection is rampant,” she said.
Other recommendations include segregation of patients who contact the flu infection, compliance by healthcare staff with good infection prevention and control practice as well as education of staff regarding the need to stay off duty when suffering from flu-like illness.
General secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said all of the health unions were involved in discussions with the HSE on a risk-based assessment.
Asked why shouldn't the flu vaccination be mandatory during an interview on RTÉ radio yesterday, Ms Ní Sheaghdha believed the health authority was not seeking to make it compulsory.