One in three nurses say they will not be immunised against swine flu, despite being offered the vaccine as a priority to protect patients.

Concerns about the swine flu vaccine’s safety and a perception that the infection is mild are among reasons that NHS staff gave for refusing to have the jab, a survey of nearly 1,500 staff found.

Frontline health and social care workers will be offered the jab from October, along with patients in at-risk groups — such as those with diabetes, asthma or pregnant women.

In the online survey for Nursing Times magazine, 30 per cent of nurses said that they would not get immunised when the vaccine for H1N1 became available; 37 per cent said they would. Thirty-three per cent were undecided.

Of those who said that they would not be vaccinated, 60 per cent cited concern about the safety of the vaccine as the main reason.

Thirty-one per cent said they did not consider the risks to their health from swine flu to be great enough, and 9 per cent did not think they would be able to take time out of work to visit their GP to be immunised.

Two possible vaccines are being tested in trials run by the University of Leicester and the Health Protection Agency to assess immunity levels and identify side-effects.

A decision on licensing is expected at the end of September, with nearly 55 million doses expected to be delivered to Britain by the end of the year.

David Salisbury, the Department of Health’s director of immunisation, said it was unfortunate that nurses could “knowingly leave themselves at risk” of contracting the illness.

“They have a duty to themselves, they are at risk. They have a duty to their patients not to infect their patients and they have a duty to their families. I think you solve those responsibilities by being vaccinated,” he said.

He added: “The evidence that we’ve had is sufficient to persuade the regulators that these are vaccines that will be licensed.”

Professor Salisbury’s comments follow a warning from Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, that swine flu could leave up to 12 per cent of the NHS workforce on sick leave at any one time.

Low vaccination rates among NHS staff have previously been blamed for causing disruption to services and illness among patients during typical winter flu seasons.

Transmission by staff of contagious viruses was blamed for some hospital outbreaks of flu last winter, when fewer than one in seven NHS staff received the annual flu vaccine, while shortages of workers also put pressure on accident and emergency departments.

Reported cases of swine flu this summer have already surpassed the levels typically seen during a winter flu season, and the figures are expected to surge in the coming months.

George Kassianos, the immunisation spokesman for the Royal College of GPs, said: “More than any other year, this year it is extremely improtant that people get vaccinated against flu. It is very important that nurses, doctors and healthcare workers do not get influenza themselves and have to go off sick, and also that we do not give it to our patients.

“We are lucky that we will have enough doses of this vaccine in Britain, and we as health professionals need to put it in our own arms first to better protect our patients.”

Dr Kassianos added that it was understandable that people were unsure about having a new vaccine, “but its ingredients and the way it’s being manufactured are almost exactly the same as the annual flu vaccine. I see no reason why this vaccine should be any different to the flu vaccines of the past. People’s confidence should rise as the programme gets under way.”

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