DH to use Facebook to fight future flu pandemic

The DH has published plans for clearer communication to the public and between health officials in a future flu pandemic, including greater use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

DH to use social media to avoid spread of false or misleading information.
DH to use social media to avoid spread of false or misleading information.

The new plans will improve direct communication with health workers on the ground in the event of a flu pandemic, the DH's report said.

The department would use social media 'to signpost to online sources of information and to promote news and updates, including monitoring and responding to avoid the spread of false or misleading information', it said.

The 2012 UK Pandemic Influenza Communications Strategy sets out how the DH and the NHS will communicate with health workers and the public in the next flu pandemic.

The DH's new plan acknowledges that one cultural legacy of the 2009/10 swine flu pandemic was the view that 'too much fuss' might have been made over the outbreak, and therefore that a pandemic is less of a threat than communicated.

However, 'a future and more severe pandemic remains a very real possibility and a priority for government preparedness', the DH report said.

In England, responsibilities for pandemic preparedness and response - including communication - are expected to pass to the new public health body, Public Health England (PHE), and local authorities.

A DH statement said: 'The DH will have overall responsibility for the pandemic flu policy. PHE will be responsible for the operational side of things, so stocking up on antivirals and making sure that distribution arrangements are in place at the time of the pandemic.

'The responsibility of marketing and publicity also lies with the PHE. DH will work closely with PHE and the NHS Commissioning Board, which will be responsible for making sure that the NHS is ready to treat patients in the event of a pandemic.'

From April 2013, the DH will make communications about an unfolding pandemic to the NHS Commissioning Board, which will pass these on to CCGs.

In Wales, local health boards will be signalled through channels including the CMO's Public Health Alert System. The Scottish government will alert health organisations directly, and in Northern Ireland this will occur through the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

The DH report said the new arrangements will provide the health secretary with a 'clear line of sight' to frontline responders.

The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) told GP that it welcomes the DH’s strategy. However, the FPH particularly wanted to address the growing concerns among the public health community about how outbreaks and vaccinations will be managed from April 2013 onwards.

An FPH spokeswoman said: ‘Our main concern is that it is becoming increasingly unclear who will be in charge of coordinating local outbreaks. We are strongly of the view that the director of public health is best positioned to take on this vital leadership role.

'We would urge GPs, particularly those involved in the running of CCGs, to work with their public health colleagues now and in the new system so that public health expertise is used effectively to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like flu.’

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