UK launches revised flu pandemic plans with rapid early response emphasis

The DoH has published its latest plans for tackling a flu pandemic, which aim to ensure a more rapid early response to an outbreak and avoiding focusing too greatly on 'worst case' scenarios.

The strategy updates previous plans from 2007 used during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009/10. It aims to ensure the UK is among the best-prepared countries in the world in the case of a future flu outbreak.

The plans anticipate ‘considerable’ pressure on primary care during the early phase of an outbreak - as was seen during the swine flu pandemic.

It says the NHS should prepare for up to 30% of symptomatic patients to present to primary care.

Under the plans, GPs could prescribe antivirals to individuals outside of established at-risk groups but whom the GP thinks may be at risk of complications, when given the go-ahead by the CMO.

This change in regulation has been made already and the function can be activated this winter by the CMO.

The UK must also ensure a proportionate response to the different demands of mild or severe outbreaks 'rather than just focusing on the "worst case" planning assumptions', the strategy states.

Earlier this year, an MPs' report said the government should make the concept of ‘most probable scenarios’ clearer to the public.

It came after the then CMO Sir Liam Donaldson had held a press conference on 16 July 2009, during which he suggested up to 65,000 people could die from swine flu in the UK.

But Sir Liam later said although such a high number was scientifically sound at the time, it may not have been an appropriate number to release to the public.

Commenting on the updated plans, health secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘This strategy sets out a clear framework to help planners in the NHS and other services to make sure we respond effectively to a flu pandemic.

‘Good communications, strong preparations and close working with our health and social care professionals are key to ensuring the impact on services and to the public is kept to a minimum should a pandemic occur.’

Dr Keiji Fukuda of the WHO said: ‘The UK remains amongst the leaders worldwide in preparing for a pandemic. The new UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy builds positively on the lessons learned from the H1N1 pandemic in setting the UK’s strategic approach to pandemic preparedness and response.’

The strategy applies to all four countries within the UK.

GPs can now track the progress of this winter's flu season with our new interactive guide, showing the effect on GP workload, vaccination rates, calls to NHS Direct and more.

Stephen Robinson

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