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Flu shots mandatory for NSW medical staff in high-risk wards

Doctors and nurses in "high-risk" hospital wards must get the flu shot before June or they may be sacked, the NSW government has announced as part of its plans to stop a repeat of last year's influenza epidemic.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said medical staff in wards such as neonatal, transplant and cancer must show they had been vaccinated by June 1 or they would be moved or forced to wear a mask. If they resisted, they may be sacked.

“Last year’s flu season was just diabolic. Anything that we can do to try and head that off has to happen,” he said.

A total of  103,193 influenza cases were recorded in NSW public hospitals between January to November last year, almost triple the 2016 total of 35,537.

Professor Brad Frankum, president of the Australian Medical Association NSW, said he supported the policy, but added there was no need to invoke "draconian" measures about sacking staff.

He said a "significant" number of hospital staff weren't vaccinated against the flu, most likely because they mistakenly believed the vaccines weren't effective or influenza wasn't a serious enough illness.


"I'm not saying many would think that, perhaps some, but we've seen these very serious flu epidemics and deaths and there's no doubt influenza is a dangerous disease," he said.

"So perhaps it's just a little bit of ignorance or a lack of education in the past, but that awareness is growing and you won't find disagreement now. Vaccination is essential."

On Tuesday, Mr Hazzard launched a $1.75 million campaign called "Don't spread the flu - it's in your hands" to encourage people to get their jab early and clean their hands in an effort to save lives.

As part of the campaign, it will set up UV light "germ detectors" at some transport hubs and shopping centres so people can see how clean  their hands are.

“More than 650 people died in NSW from flu-like symptoms last year ... it should be a wake-up call to the community to take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones," Mr Hazzard said.

"Get your flu shot early, cough into your elbow not your hands, wash your hands regularly and stay at home if you are sick.”

The government expects to spend a record $22.75 million on immunisation programs in 2017-18, including $3.5 million for free flu shots to children up to five years of age.

Opposition health spokesman Walt Secord said the medical staff vaccination plan was a "no-brainer" and the government should urgently adopt a "North American-style approach" to limit the spread of influenza.

He said such a program would include large-scale free or subsidised vaccination programs for workplaces and schools, stronger hygiene practices in public places, a community education campaign, and encouraging self-exclusion from school or work.

“Last year, the Turnbull and Berejiklian governments were caught completely unprepared for the massive patient influx due to the worst flu season on record," he said.

“Clearly, they did not take the necessary steps to protect the community."

In January, the government announced it would spend $3.5 million this year to provide free flu shots for all NSW children between six months and five years of age.

How you can help fight the spread of flu:

  • Get your flu shot
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow
  • Clean your hands
  • Stay home when sick