Lords claim government was under-prepared for swine flu epidemic

July 28, 2009 at 1:50 pm Leave a comment


The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has criticised the government’s preparations for the swine flu outbreak.

They said that while the government deserved praise for stockpiling antivirals, the so called ‘flu hotline’ is not fully operational and there is a lack of clarity about how the ‘interim’ flu line will interact with NHS Direct.

The total number of cases of swine flu is increasing each day.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, by 15 July, 125,993 laboratory confirmed cases of H1N1 had been reported globally with 667 deaths.

In the UK, there have been 10,649 confirmed cases as of 15 July.

According to the Health Protection Agency, commenting for the week ending 12 July, GP consultation rates for flu-like illness continue to increase in England.

This rate (73.4 per 100,000) is now above the peak (68.5 per 100,000) reached in winter season 08/09.

At present, in the UK, the virus is generally mild in most people.

Of the small number of cases in the UK where the virus has been more severe or fatal, many of the patients have had “underlying health conditions,” although some deaths have been reported in otherwise healthy people.

Last week the government launched a phone hotline for people in England and Wales and an advice website.

Lord Sutherland, Chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, said:

“While the Government have got some things right in preparing for a flu pandemic, such as the stockpiling of antivirals, there are other areas where we appear to be under prepared.

“We were surprised and disappointed that the Government had not undertaken ‘whole system’ testing of health services preparations for a flu pandemic before swine flu emerged.”

The Committee said they want clarity on how intensive and critical care facilities would be expected to perform in a pandemic and where there are weaknesses in critical care provision which should be addressed.

The Committee have ‘significant concerns’ about the delay in the operation of the National Pandemic Flu Service (NPFS) and ask the Government to explain this delay.

They also seek assurances that the service will be able to meet anticipated demand and be fully operational by autumn to meet the challenges of the anticipated ‘second wave’ of swine flu.

The Committee are disappointed the process of ‘whole system’ testing (examining how the full range of health services could react in a pandemic) was not carried our earlier.

The Committee ask the Government to clarify what interim services are in place until the ‘enhanced’ NPFS comes on-stream and to make clear how the service will interact with NHS Direct.

The report calls on the Government to clarify how they will ensure NHS staff are supported in providing services that may be outside their areas of expertise and if they will be protected from legal action when they provide this treatment.

The Committee also want better guidance on ethical decisions on who could have access to limited flu treatments/vaccines.


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