As Clinical Director of Christchurch Hospital’s emergency department, Dr Angela Pitchford has seen the impact of influenza more than most but it was her personal experience of the illness that first convinced her that she needed an annual vaccination.
[The video starts with a shot of the hospital, and of the sign for Emergency and Acute Admissions.]
[Interview with Angela, intercut with shots of Angela talking to staff in the hospital back offices.]
Title: Dr Angela Pitchford, Clinical Director, Christchurch Hospital Emergency Department.
Angela: I think when a person has a vaccination themselves, they’re protecting many people. They’re protecting themselves, of course. They protect their family, their coworkers. If they have a vaccination and don’t get the flu then they’re less likely to be a source of infection for other people.
Traditionally, we know that the elderly and the very young are vulnerable to influenza. We also know from recent epidemics that pregnant women are vulnerable as well.
Having said that though, age is no barrier to getting pneumonia. And we’ve seen cases of influenza in the 20- and 30-year-old age group where they develop secondary infections such as pneumonia. Being healthy or fit is no barrier at all.
[Interview with Deb, intercut with shots of staff at work.]
Title: Deb Latimer, Nurse Vaccinator, Christchurch Hospital Emergency Department.
Deb: In regards to people who are fairly fit and well, a lot of people think that they then don’t need the flu vax because of that. But it’s very important that we get as many people vaccinated as possible because it does then help prevent most people who aren’t as healthy from getting the flu.
I have actually had the flu in the past, about 2 years ago. And I have to say I was the sickest I’ve ever been. I was hallucinating, very unwell, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.
[Deb is talking to a patient about getting the flu vaccination, and discussing the consent form with him.]
Deb (voiceover): In regards to helping prevent getting the flu or keeping yourself well, apart from getting the vaccination, it’s important that if you are feeling unwell and think you have the flu that you perhaps see your GP first. But ring them first to tell them that you may possibly have the flu. Stay at home, keep yourself warm, lots of fluids, and look after yourself.
[Deb gives the patient his injection.]
Deb (voiceover): So again I just want to say just how important it is that people get the flu vaccination especially for this winter.
[Back to interview.]
Deb: Personal experience – it does take a lot of time and nursing care with patients who do come in with flu. It does gridlock us in the department in that we have too many patients, no beds, and people come in who don’t have the flu, come in with various other illnesses, have to be admitted, and then they’re at risk of catching the flu as well.
About 25 years ago Dr Pitchford had a bad case of the flu and developed pneumonia. While she was lying in bed one of her children came and stroked her head and said ‘Mummy, people die of pneumonia don’t they’. Having a flu vaccination ‘wasn’t something most people did back then’ but she says it struck her that it was something she needed to do for her family. She says she has been having a yearly flu vaccination ever since.
Dr Pitchford says one person having an influenza vaccination has the potential to protect many people – ‘the person themselves, their family, their co-workers and people they come in contact with in their everyday lives.’
She says it is most important that people who are pregnant, elderly, very young or have ongoing medical conditions are protected with an influenza vaccination but even fit young and middle-aged adults can get very sick with the flu. ‘We’ve seen a number of people in the emergency department in their 20s and 30s with secondary infections such as pneumonia.’
Despite the fact that an annual influenza vaccination is free to vulnerable people, available in many workplaces and accessible to everyone from their general practice, Dr Pitchford says influenza still puts significant pressure on emergency departments every year.
‘Winter influenza outbreaks make a busy time of year even busier for us. At its worst it can feel like a tsunami of people coming through the door,’ she says.
‘An increased number of admissions can also clog up the rest of the hospital, making it harder for us to find a bed for people with other illnesses.’
Dr Pitchford says that individually everyone can help reduce the pressure on hospitals by having a yearly influenza vaccination. ‘If people get the flu they should also ring their GP or the hospital before coming in. Health professionals need to prepare for people with influenza as they need to be isolated from other patients to stop the illness from spreading.’
Canterbury District Health Board like other DHBs encourages its staff to take up the opportunity of a free annual influenza vaccination to protect themselves, their families and patients and ensure that there is a strong workforce over the winter months.
Emergency department nurse vaccinator Deb Latimer says she takes every opportunity to encourage staff throughout the hospital to have a flu vaccination. ‘I have had the flu once and it was the sickest I’ve ever been. Having a flu shot is such an easy thing to prevent that. You also only have to work here to see the impact that it has on individuals and health services.’