UK is well prepared for swine flu claims Gordon Brown

May 2, 2009 at 12:32 pm Leave a comment

By Gemma Pritchard

The recent worldwide swine flu outbreak was the topic of the day during Prime Minister’s Questions this week, during which Gordon Brown announced that the UK is one of the best prepared countries in the world should the situation escalate to pandemic level.

Scottish Labour MP Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill), raised his concerns about the extent of the problem. The first two confirmed victims of the potentially life-threatening disease are being treated at Monklands Hospital, within Mr Clarke’s constituency.

After confirming three further UK cases of the disease, Mr Brown was keen to reassure the House that the necessary precautions are being taken.

He said: “I believe that we are making the necessary preparations and taking the precautions that we need to take to prevent the incidence of the disease in this country. I can confirm that we have enhanced airport checks, and that we are advising people not to travel to Mexico unless it is necessary.

“We will continue to review the position, and at the same time we have decided to build up stocks of antivirals from 35 million doses to 50 million. We are ordering a great many more face masks, and we will send out public information to all citizens in this country. By Tuesday of next week, an information leaflet will be available for every family.

“The World Health Organisation has said that we are one of the best prepared countries. We intend to keep it that way, and to do everything in our power to make sure that people are safe from this worldwide flu.”

Conservative leader, David Cameron, raised concerns that without the national flu line being set up, there is a danger the NHS Direct phone service could be overwhelmed by calls from members of the public fearing that they may have the disease.

Mr Cameron said: “The whole House will share the Prime Minister’s concern about the cases of swine flu and what he has just said, and the whole House will also welcome the steps that the Prime Minister and the Government are taking.

“May I ask a number of specific questions? First, may I ask about the national flu line? That was supposed to be up and running already, but instead we are currently told, I believe, that it will not be operational until the autumn. Given the importance of making sure that information is available for people, can the Prime Minister tell us what the Government are doing to speed that up?”

The Prime Minister replied: “I can say about the flu line that interim arrangements are being made. We signed a contract with BT last year.

“It is not simply an information line; it is about the availability and distribution of antivirals to people in the country. If that is necessary, that will be done, and we have made arrangements so that that can be done, but of course over the longer term we want to create the flu line, which is to be brought into being when it is necessary.

“I have to say that the circumstances in which it would be used are not yet reached, and we hope that they will not be reached, but arrangements have been made. If I may say so, the Health Secretary will make a fuller statement to the House this evening about those very issues.”

Mr Cameron also questioned the Prime Minister about the supply of face masks for NHS staff, to protect against the spread of swine flu.

“My hon. Friend the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), the shadow Secretary of State for Health, has, I believe, raised the matter 15 times in the last four years.

“The Health Secretary said on Monday that the Government have not yet done enough. Again, could we have a time scale on the issue of face masks as well?”

Ahead of a detailed statement from the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, later that evening, Mr Brown explained: “As far as face masks are concerned, let me say that there are large numbers in stock but we have got to do more, and we have now ordered, and are ordering, several million more masks.

“These orders will come in over the next few days and weeks, and we are determined to have what is necessary. May I say, so that there is no confusion on this, that the face masks are what are necessary for the NHS staff?

“The guidance that has been given by the chief medical officer about what the public can do, and the guidance that we will send out in the information note from next week—it will be on the website a lot earlier—will not refer to a need for the public to have such a face mask.

“This is for NHS staff who are in circumstances where they come up to people who are perhaps facing, or suffering from, that flu. That is what the face masks are for.”

Earlier in the session, Conservative MP for Stone, William Cash, had lighten the tone with a question about the Prime Minister’s recent YouTube appearance.

Mr Cash said: “Given his [the Prime Minister’s] recent comedy turn on YouTube, when can we expect another performance?

Amidst raucous laughter from the Tory benches, Mr Brown replied: “YouTube is one of the most important mediums of communication and, even if the Opposition will not use it, I shall continue to do so.”

In what was a very lively session of PMQs, Conservative Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) later quipped: “Now that fiscal probity is back in vogue, why do we need a Labour Government?

The Prime Minister responded: “Two and a half million extra jobs in 1997, 1 million extra young people in further education and training, 1 million more adults getting education and literacy, a doubling of the national health service and education—all would be put at risk by a Conservative Administration.”

Towards the end of the session, the House grew increasingly rowdy in response to a question about MPs expenses, ahead of the following days proposed votes on Member’s allowances. At one point the Speaker had to intervene to quieten down proceedings.

Labour member for Eltham, Clive Efford asked: “Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s votes on Sir Christopher Kelly’s review of Members’ allowances, one thing that the public have the right to expect is full disclosure of all outside influences, including income, who employs Members, who pays them, for how long and also…There is also the value and income from blind investment trusts, such as the ones held by millionaires’ row on the Opposition Benches.”

The Prime Minister said: “I think that Members should remember that the whole country is looking at our proceedings, and I think also that the whole country wants us to take the action that is necessary to clean up any problems and any abuses that exist in our system.”

After being interrupted by jeers from the opposition benches, Mr Brown continued: “I must say to all Members who are shouting that they should have some humility, because the public are the taxpayers, and the public pay for the expenses of MPs. We have a duty to put in shape the best measures possible for dealing with that.”


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