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Guest blog: Dental graduates play a key role in delivering the flu vaccination programme

Written by: Dr Stefan Serban and Dr Sally Eapen Simon - 8th April 2021

As we approach the end of the flu vaccination season, we look back at our work with Health Education England in utilising the Dental Foundation Training scheme to assist with the delivery of the flu vaccination programme during the Covid-19 programme. In this guest blog, Dr Sally Eapen Simon and Dr Stefan Serban discuss the role played by dental graduates.

In order to reduce the risk of the dual threat of seasonal influenza and coronavirus, the UK Government has expanded the eligibility criteria for flu vaccinations to include additional groups, e.g. those over the age of 50, household contacts of people on the NHS Shielded Patient List for COVID-19 and Year 7 secondary school children.

This represents approximately 30 million people. The additional eligible groups and the increased ambitions to reach at least 75% in each group meant that in the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber, an extra two million people needed to access the vaccination programme. The largest one to date, the 2020/21 Flu Programme presented significant operational delivery challenges such as workforce issues due to staff sickness, or self-isolation and re-deployment and ensuring delivery of these clinical sessions in a safe COVID environment.

Dental Foundation Training (DFT) is the NHS training scheme for graduates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Foundation Dentists (FDs) spend a year training in identified practices. A few FDs complete an additional year and gain training experience in a secondary care setting. In addition, the FDs gain an overview of career choices and a better understanding of the NHS system.

The impact of the pandemic on delivery of NHS dental services including the reduction of clinical activity, resulted in Health Education England (HEE) revising the training programme to include broader public health training opportunities. The learning outcomes were aligned to key competencies including leadership, communication (with patients and clinicians), teamwork and time management.

In September 2020, for the first time nationally, HEE Yorkshire and the Humber agreed to support the placement of 106 foundation dentists to help the delivery of flu vaccinations for one day a week between October 2020 and the end of March 2021 across the three Integrated Care System (ICS) geographies. Strategic conversations were held between NHS England and NHS Improvement, Public Health England, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) Flu leads and ICS partners to determine how this free offer could be mobilised. The three ICSs funded an immunisation training programme that was delivered by Leeds Beckett University. All key partners agreed on the NHS indemnity and training requirements.

With the support of funding by Yorkshire & the Humber Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), University of Leeds are leading on the evaluation of the programme. This funding is supporting the qualitative analysis of data collected from interviews and focus groups, and the results are due to be published in summer 2021.

Now thanks to this piece of work and following additional training, 58 FDs are currently supporting the delivery of the COVID vaccination programme at both Trust and primary care network (PCN) designated sites.

Preliminary data shows that some FDs are vaccinating at least 100 people a day. Importantly, this has helped them understand the importance of fostering partnerships with primary care colleagues and being part of this wider primary care healthcare team to improve both patient care and outcomes.
This work has so far led to the publications of two articles in peer reviewed journals:

The pandemic provided a unique opportunity for the dental workforce to support the delivery of important public health immunisation programmes. Innovative and collaborative work between key partners has resulted in maximising the best use of NHS resources, supported the wider public health training of dental graduates and ultimately has contributed to the significant increase in flu vaccine uptake amongst the eligible cohort in 2020/21 in Yorkshire and the Humber.