Views & Reviews Starting Out

Resisting the needle: why I won’t have the flu jab

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d6554 (Published 17 October 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6554
  1. Kinesh Patel, junior doctor, London
  1. kinesh_patel{at}yahoo.co.uk

It was like something from Homer: the outstretched hands, the bowed head, as if a libation were being offered. It was not a ceremonial offering, however, but a bleep in the hands of a fellow house officer. This was seven years ago; my first job as a surgical house officer. As our stint of six months was about to come to an end, the mess president came up with the rather foolish idea of having a farewell party midweek.

The consequences were predictable. My colleague attended work after having drunk too much the night before and, to be fair, was doing pretty well until in the late morning an urgent bleep from the consultant beckoned her to theatre with some urgent radiographs. She promptly vomited into a sink. The theatre sister took her to one side and gave her a gluteal injection of metoclopramide and suggested she might like to go home. And so the bleep was proffered to me.

Now it’s not often that the chief executive of the NHS writes to me. Well, to be completely truthful, he has never actually written to me directly. I do, of course, receive intermittent missives forwarded from really important people who do receive such letters directly, through one of the scourges of modern life: the cascaded, cc’d email.

The latest of these took me by surprise. It was aimed at every NHS worker, asking us to be vaccinated against influenza this year. That is not particularly controversial. But then came the crunch. The letter said that we must recognise our “duty of care towards patients” by being vaccinated. The quoted evidence for this comes from four papers that look at vaccinating healthcare workers in long term care homes and is probably not applicable to most people who work in the NHS, no matter how much the ward feels like a nursing home at times.

Let’s be clear: I generally believe in vaccination. But the chance of a healthy person dying from influenza was about four in a million last year. I take bigger chances than that eating my lunch. And I don’t think that healthcare workers should be made to feel guilty about personal choices without solid evidence.

The fundamental question is how much should our personal liberties be infringed to deliver better care for patients? And where does it end? Should our alcohol intake mid-week be restricted? Should going out until 3 am? I for one will be resisting the needle squad as they journey ward to ward, recruiting staff to have their vaccinations. After all, how bad can man flu be?

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6554