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Written Statement - Seasonal Influenza Report 2016-17 and plans for 2017-18

Rebecca Evans, Minister for Social Services and Public Health

Public Health Wales has published its annual report ‘Seasonal Influenza in Wales 2016-17’.

The key findings are:

  • The season arrived earlier and peaked earlier than the previous 2 seasons and flu circulated at moderate levels in the community.
  • GP consultation rates and confirmed hospital cases were slightly lower than 2015-16.
  • There were 49 reported outbreaks in care homes and hospital settings.
  • GP consultation rates were highest in younger and middle-age adults, whereas higher proportions of older adults and elderly people were diagnosed in hospital.
  • Influenza A(H3N2) was the dominant virus strain. This appeared to be well matched to the vaccine.
  • The percentage uptake for priority groups remained stable but in actual numbers more individuals in Wales than ever before received the flu vaccine in 2016-17, about 24 % of the estimated population. The total number of people immunised increased to 761,838 compared to 730,246 in 2015-16.
  • Community pharmacies provided 26,889 vaccinations as part of the NHS service, an increase of 36% on 2015-16.
  • Vaccine uptake in children aged 2 and 3 years, immunised in primary care, increased to 45%
  • Uptake in children aged 4 to 7 years, immunised in schools, increased to 67%.
  • 77% of pregnant women had the flu vaccine.
  • Uptake by NHS staff with direct patient contact increased to 52% continuing a positive trend and exceeding the 50% target for Wales for the first time.

Flu vaccine uptake in Wales continues to be amongst the best in Europe and it is a tribute to the hard work of NHS staff involved in delivery of the flu vaccination programme that the number of vulnerable people choosing to have the flu vaccine is growing. However, we are still below where we would like to be in some at risk groups.

Planning for next season’s campaign is already underway. The main changes for 2017-18 are:

  • The uptake target for individuals under 65 years of age in at risk groups will be reduced from 75% to 55%. Last season 55% was achieved in some groups but uptake needs to improve across all at risk groups. By setting a more realistic annual target, we hope to see incremental, year on year improvement.
  • Last season uptake in frontline NHS staff reached over 50% for Wales for the first time. I am pleased that more and more NHS staff are recognising their professional responsibility to protect vulnerable patients from flu infection and helping to reduce winter pressures on the NHS. To build on this progress, the uptake target is being increased from 50% to 60% for 2017-18.
  • Emerging evidence from the roll out of the routine vaccination programme in primary schools elsewhere in the UK has shown that vaccinating younger children can have a significant impact on reducing the circulation of flu virus in the community and, through a herd effect, reducing GP consultations, hospital admissions and deaths from flu. In 2017-18 the children’s programme in Wales will be extended by one additional school year i.e. school year 4. Children in school reception class and school years 1 to 4 (ages 4 to 8 years) will be offered the flu vaccine by the school nursing service. Children aged 2 and 3 years will continue to be offered the vaccine through primary care.
In 2018-19, the roll out of the children’s programme will be accelerated to include 2 additional school years, i.e. school years 5 and 6. This means that from 2018-19 all primary school children in Wales will be offered flu vaccine in school.

In September, I will be meeting with professional bodies and other relevant organisations to ensure that arrangements are in place to support the successful delivery of the flu vaccination programme in 2017-18.

The full Public Health Wales report ‘Seasonal Influenza in Wales 2016-17’ can be found at:

wales.nhs.uk/sites3/page.cfm?orgid=457&pid=55714

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.