HEALTH professionals across the country are emphasising the importance of getting the flu jab this winter, which has the capacity to once again overwhelm hospitals if people are not protected.

With a focus on protecting people from coronavirus over the past 18 months, through measures such as face masks and social distancing, this also resulted in the rates of flu to be dramatically lower than usual last winter.

The consequences of this mean that many people do not have any immunity from the strains of flu around at the moment, so anyone eligible to have a free flu jab is encouraged to take it as the cold winter months approach us.

St Helens Star: Social distancing measures resulted in much lower rates of flu last year (Pic: PA)Social distancing measures resulted in much lower rates of flu last year (Pic: PA)

Highlighting the importance of this - and wishing not to spend a second winter with over stretched hospitals - the government have launched the biggest flu programme in the NHS's history with more than 35 million people in England eligible for a free vaccine.

Those eligible include children between the ages of 2-17, those with long-term health conditions, pregnant women and the over 50's.

Paul Stockton, respiratory consultant at Whiston Hospital reaffirmed this message, stressing the importance of anyone eligible for a free jab to take it.

Paul explained: "It's not a coincidence that after complying with preventive coronavirus measures such as face masks and social distancing that we had much lower rates of flu.

"It's really simple things that can keep these rates down, but I fear we will go back to where was a couple of years ago, with high numbers of patients sick from the flu, or potentially worse."

While the consultant commended St Helens for the high coronavirus vaccine uptake, he emphasised the seriousness to also get flu jabbed, and have a covid booster jab when eligible.

St Helens Star: Whiston HospitalWhiston Hospital

He said: "While we are treating much less patients for coronavirus, the people we are treating are those who have not yet been vaccinated. [...] By having a covid and a flu jab, you are not only protecting yourself, but your loved ones and others around you, while also decreasing the likelihood of becoming seriously ill if you are infected."

Explaining that Whiston is already at "absolute capacity" with non-covid related illnesses, he feels that hospitals will "really struggle with the difficult winter months" if people are not protected from the current flu strains and coronavirus.