NHS chiefs have told providers they expect “near universal uptake” of staff getting a flu vaccination this winter.

NHS Improvement announced today that all frontline NHS staff will be expected to get vaccinated to protect patients as part of a new plan for winter.

The statement comes after the health service came under huge pressure last winter from the combination of extreme weather, high levels of norovirus and the worst flu season in a decade.

It follows NHS England writing to the royal colleges in July asking them to provide an action plan to increase the uptake of flu vaccines among staff, with 68.7 per cent of frontline workers receiving the vaccination last year.

In a statement, NHS Improvement said a third of the increase in emergency admissions was flu related, while the virus also meant staff were off sick too.

NHS England and NHS Improvement wrote to trusts today, telling them that staff declining vaccination should be asked to explain their reasons.

It said in hospital departments where patients have a lower immunity or are most at risk of flu it might be appropriate to redeploy staff choosing not be vaccinated.

NHS England’s chief nursing officer Professor Jane Cummings said: “NHS staff did a remarkable job last winter as the health service faced a perfect storm of flu, stomach bugs and unusually severe weather.

“By getting vaccinated against flu, health care workers can protect themselves, their families, colleagues and patients, making sure we have a healthy workforce and helping to reduce the pressure on services over winter.”

Social care workers will receive the flu vaccination free of charge, while independent providers, such as GPs and community pharmacists, are expected to offer the vaccination to their frontline staff.

In a letter to system leaders, NHS chiefs reminded hospital trusts of the national plan to free up 4,000 beds by the end of December 2018.

The government has also announced £145m will be allocated to trusts to upgrade wards and accident and emergency as well as open 900 extra beds during the winter flu season.