There’s a certain gallows humour in the flu queue at Cleveleys Health Centre.
The latest tweak to the flu vaccine for this season includes protection against the latest flu strain from Australia.
“It’s probably Four X,” quips Les Fish, of Thornton, in the queue with wife Theresa for, as she puts it, “the peace of mind that the flu jab provides.”
Both are retired. “Flu can be fatal,” adds Theresa. “We think the practice handle the inoculation programme really well. It’s fast, it’s organised, and usually timed well ahead of the flu season striking in earnest.”
It’s much the same scene at GP-run health centres across the Fylde with supplies of the vaccine available ahead of the usual sneezing season which has the potential to bring schools, workplaces and community centres and services to a near-standstill – and pile further pressures on an already over stretched health service, whether at the existing primary care level or frontline hospital services.
For those on GP lists and already deemed at risk, through age, or health factors, the flu jab is free – and that means a queue of well over 1,000 patients at this, the first session of mass inoculation, at the Cleveleys Health Centre at Kelso Avenue.
All are there by invitation only. And there are even more to come tomorrow morning when the queue will start to form ahead of the 9am start and run through to noon.
GPs such as Dr Catherine Scott and Dr Sue Fairhead (pictured with patient Marion Schindler) cope with the queues assisted by three practice nurses.
It’s a painless experience, reports first timer Derek Dronsfield. “Nothing to worry about”.
If any patients on the red letter day list are ducking and diving their obligations to their own health – or that of those for whom they care - there’s no indication.
And at this particular practice, one of the more proactive, with a predominantly older clientele, they are offering, for the first time as part of the programme, an inoculation against shingles, again by dint of risk and prevailing factors - such as having had chickenpox.
One elderly lady is delighted with the JOGOF (jab one, get one free) offer.
“I’ve had shingles,” she says. “It’s very painful. And if it meets in the middle you’re dead.”
Well, actually that’s another urban myth – probably owing more to roots in the Ring of Roses nursery rhyme of the Plague days than anything shingles, albeit a potentially serious condition, can throw at victims.
Other myths include “you get the flu if you have a flu jab”.
No, you don’t, stresses Janette Hopkins, consultant nurse in public health for NHS Blackpool, who helps oversee the programme across the Fylde.
Janette says awareness is at an all time high locally.
She explains: “With the seasonal flu vaccine we have priority areas. These include the over 65s, but now include pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy – which is quite new in England.
“Priority also extends to those under the age of 65, including children, with certain long term conditions such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and then people who are in caring areas, such as health professionals in close contact with people in the risk areas, or carers – because if you protect carers you protect patients too.
“The need to include pregnant women was apparent in the flu pandemic in 2009 to 2010. In America they have a history of having given flu vaccinations to pregnant women which goes back 10 to 20 years. There are no ill effects.
“One of our main targets this season is raising awareness around pregnant ladies, and midwives, to reassure them it is safe to have the vaccination. The over 65s tend to have got the message loud and clear. They know flu can have serious consequences, they also tend to be old enough to remember the heyday of previously prevalent diseases, and know how crucial the inoculation programme has been right across the board.”
Medics at Cleveleys Health Centre are rightly proud of their screening and safeguarding programme – and inoculation champions there include a local lady who is 102-years-old.
Janette adds: “Too many see flu as a bit of a joke, man-flu, that kind of thing, so we need to do work on cultural education out there, in the risk groups, dispel the myths, and underline the protection the vaccine provides.”
In house, Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s own staff vaccination policy has proved a trailblazer, via a three minute video which has gone viral, no pun intended, on YouTube.
The film, which encourages Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to get themselves inoculated, has become a YouTube sensation with almost 300 hits.
It’s also won praise from public health chiefs across the country for its quirky approach. Judge for yourself on YouTube - follow the link to Blackpool Teaching Hospitals.