Exclusive: Half of GPs lack guidance on tackling pandemic flu

Half of all GPs believe that the DoH has failed to provide them with enough information about what to do in the event of an influenza pandemic, an exclusive GP survey reveals.

The survey of 310 GPs found that 49.4 per cent of GPs felt that the DoH had not provided them with sufficient information to prepare their practice for a pandemic.

Only a quarter of GPs said that they felt that their practice would be able to cope with the extra demands from patients during a pandemic. 

Our survey also showed that 80 per cent of GPs said that they did not have access to antiviral drugs, with some GPs expressing concerns that they were unsure about what to do or to who antivirals should be given.

Professor Lindsey Davies, DoH czar for pandemic influenza preparedness, told GP: ‘I would like to see more GPs prepared for a pandemic. Planning for a pandemic is actually one of the NHS's top priorities for this year. 

‘We released the pandemic framework in November last year and have sent out information packs and posters to all GPs, but recognise that there is still much more work to be done.' 

PCTs should be planning at a local level what to do in the event of a pandemic but the situation is variable around the country, admitted Professor Davies.

She added that GPs should have access to antivirals to use against seasonal flu, but do not yet have access to the separate stockpile allocated for a pandemic. 

The findings come as GPs in England and Scotland are being advised to prescribe the antiviral oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to fight high levels of seasonal flu.

Flu levels have exceeded the antiviral threshold of 30 cases per 100,000 in England and 50 cases per 100,000 in Scotland.

But Dr Nigel Higson, a Brighton GP and virologist, warned that GPs need to be given more information on when to prescribe antivirals and to which patients. 

‘It is vital that the DoH provides GPs with information that is trustworthy and appropriate,' he said.

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokesman and Berkshire GP, said: ‘It may be that many GPs do have access to antivirals, but just don't know about it because they have not been properly informed. 

‘The DoH has provided GPs with information via their website, but it is only the GPs that actively go and look on the internet for the information that will find it. They should also be sending out paper copies to each practice so that everyone has the information.'

Dr Kassianos also called for PCTs to appoint teams to visit all GP surgeries in their area to ensure they are ready for a pandemic, including organising test runs and drills.

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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