Less than half of the patients eligible for free flu vaccinations were vaccinated between 2016 and 17, a British Lung Foundation report has revealed.

The report, Out in the cold, Lung disease, the hidden driver of NHS winter pressure, shows that just 48% of patients with chronic respiratory disease and patients aged 65 and over, among others, were vaccinated.

Low flu jab uptake 

The UK has ‘a commendably high uptake of the flu vaccine in over 65s, compared with most countries’, according to the report. Yet the uptake in patients with chronic lung conditions is substantially lower.

The report said that ‘emergency departments are hugely stretched by the increased demand, in part caused by the seasonal change which brings colder, damper weather plus influenza and other viral outbreaks’.

It said: ‘We must work harder to tackle the unfounded fears and myths, in both the public and some medical professionals, which deter people from having flu jabs.

‘People with long-term lung conditions who then get flu and/or pneumonia are known to have a more serious illness and are more likely to die as a result of it.’

High mortality rate

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that respiratory disease has the greatest seasonal variation of mortality.

In 2016 and 17, around 62% more people died from a respiratory condition in the winter compared with the non-winter months.

Over the past seven years, hospital admissions for lung disease have increase at more than three times the rate of all admissions.

Penny Woods, the British Lung Foundation CEO, said that ‘we need to recognise that lung disease admissions are at the heart of winter pressures’.

She said: ‘Our A&Es are under extreme pressure.

‘This wholly predictable seasonal rise is in people being admitted with lung disease. There are almost 80% more respiratory admissions in the winter months of December, January and February than in the warmer spring months of March, April and May.

‘Lung disease has always had a much larger impact on the health service than most people think.’

As part of the Stay Well This Winter campaign, which encourages people to get a flu jab, the NHS is offering free vaccinations to more than 21 million people in England.