Swine flu could infect 100,000 people a day by next month

July 2, 2009 at 11:04 pm Leave a comment

The Health Secretary has updated MPs on the outbreak of swine flu in the UK.

Andy Burnham told the Commons earlier today:

“We have always known it would be impossible to contain the virus indefinitely, and that at some point we would need to move away from containment to treating the increasing numbers falling ill.

“7,447 laboratory confirmed cases of swine flu in the UK.

“A significant number of people have been hospitalised. Three people, all of whom had underlying health problems, have, sadly, died.

“Since the first UK case was confirmed on 27 April, health protection officers, NHS staff from across the UK and Department of Health officials have been leading the fight to contain the virus.”

Mr Burnham said the focus would now be on getting anti-virals to those who need them, rather than trying to contain the spread of the virus.

“Cases are doubling every week, and on this trend we could see more than 100,000 cases per day by the end of August—although I stress that that is only a projection.

“As cases continue to rise, we have reached the next step in our management of the disease. Our national focus should be on treating the increasing numbers affected by swine flu.

“Based on experts’ recommendations and with the agreement of Health Ministers across all four Administrations, I can today tell the House that we will move to this treatment phase across the UK with immediate effect.

“That will mean that in England the Health Protection Agency will take a step back and primary care will take the lead in diagnosing and distributing antivirals.

“There will be an immediate end to contact tracing and prophylaxis in all regions, GPs will now provide clinical diagnosis of swine flu cases rather than awaiting laboratory test results, and primary care trusts will now begin to establish antiviral collection points where necessary.

“The new approach will also mean a move from the daily reported figures of laboratory confirmed cases from the Health Protection Agency to more general estimates of spread.”

Mr Burnham said schools should not close because of individual cases of swine flu, “but that they could close if the particular local circumstances warranted it.”

“We will continue to offer antivirals to all those who have contracted the illness,” he said.

“However, it remains a matter of clinical discretion to decide whether antivirals should be prescribed in individual cases, particularly in circumstances where doctors are likely to be contacted by patients with coughs and colds and by the worried well, in addition to those with swine flu.

“Expert advice emphasises the high importance of treatment with antivirals of those in the higher risk groups. We will therefore issue clear guidance to doctors to ensure that those at higher risk get early priority access to antivirals.”

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said he supports the change from a containment strategy to a treatment strategy and he also backed the decision on schools.

“The Secretary of State knows that we agree with the proposal that treatment should be offered to all patients, and not just to those in the at-risk groups,” he said.

“About a quarter of fatalities associated with swine flu in the United States were among patients who were not at risk and did not have underlying conditions.

“Given the availability of antivirals in this country, and the potential to make them available to symptomatic patients, there is no reason why patients who need them and who might go on to have severe or even fatal complications should not be offered them. ”

Mr Burnham said that as the availability of the vaccine comes on line, pressure on the antiviral stockpile will obviously be relieved.

“So we think that that approach is prudent, although I say again that the science points us to a more targeted use of antivirals. In discussion with colleagues in the devolved Administrations, I felt that now was not the right time to go, given that SAGE said that the decision was “finely balanced.” We need to know more and we need to have more conclusive evidence before taking a move of that kind.”

Lib Dem Health spokesperson Sandra Gidley praised the NHS “and all those at the Department of Health who have been providing support to others behind the scenes and burning the midnight oil—they do not get praise very often.

“We, too, welcome the cautious approach that the Secretary of State is taking to these matters. It is a difficult decision—it is a finely balanced one—but we support him in the conclusion that Ministers have reached.”

Mr Burnham said the staff at the department “will feel a little cheered today to have had their efforts recognised by the Lib Dem Front Bencher. Perhaps they will go about their work today with that extra lift in their heart.”

“It is very nice of the hon. Lady to offer her thanks,” he said.

“Those staff have genuinely been working hard, and have put in a lot of work over a long period. It will be appreciated that that has been recognised by the hon. Lady.”


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