Too much emphasis is being put on stockpiling antiviral drugs rather than on the planning of essential services, said experts at the BMA’s annual conference of Public Health Medicine and Community Health in London last week.
The government has completed an order of 14.6 million courses of the antiviral Tamiflu, according to a report by the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences.
This order should cover 25 per cent of the UK population with healthcare workers and also un-immunised people in high-risk groups taking priority.
But Central London GP Dr Steve Hajioff, an expert in public health, said: ‘It is not the antivirals that are important in a pandemic but how we can keep functioning as a country and how we can limit the spread of flu.’
Dr Mark Temple, consultant in public health medicine for the National Public Health Service for Wales, warned that GP practices ‘would be overwhelmed in just 24 to 48 hours during a pandemic’ without more support.
UK research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week suggests that public health interventions are the best way to reduce death rates in the event of a flu pandemic.
The analysis looked at how US cities dealt with the 1918/9 Spanish influenza pandemic. The research showed that there were fewer deaths in cities that implemented non-pharmacological interventions, such as restricting the movement of people and closing schools.
But it will still be important to make the best use of antiviral stockpiles, said lead researcher Professor Neil Ferguson, an expert in infectious disease at Imperial College London.
This could reduce reliance on disruptive non-pharmaceutical interventions, he said.