Editorial: DoH must turn pandemic plans into action

GPs are doing an admirable job dealing with the outbreak of swine flu, but there is concern that national and local management is not up to scratch.

This week, Dr Peter Holden, the GPC lead for pandemic flu, tells GP that the DoH should be using the UK pandemic alert levels. These were supposed to kick in when the WHO announced a global pandemic, but so far they have not.

According to Dr Holden, areas where there is an outbreak should be at level 3, which would mean the suspension of QOF and a move to command and control.

These levels are the basis for pandemic planning. Introducing them would help primary care organisations (PCOs) focus on what they should be doing. Many GPs do not believe their PCO is adequately prepared, or providing them with the support they need. If PCOs could see where we were on the alert scale they may take things more seriously.

Perhaps it is because the virus has proved relatively harmless in most people that the urgency is not there. But the number of cases is rising rapidly and we are about to enter the holiday period where key members of staff will be away. Forward planning is vital.

Suspending the QOF is a big step, but the DoH must think ahead and this is a step that should be taken before GPs are left struggling to cope with impossible workloads.

The DoH is also dragging its feet on the national flu helpline. It was meant to be ready this summer, but has been delayed.

This could cause real problems for GPs. The helpline will enable people to obtain anti-virals after a brief phone consultation. Without it, many practices will be besieged by patients and unable to cope.

One also has to question Gordon Brown's decision to move public health minister Dawn Primarolo, the minister in charge of pandemic planning, out of the DoH. The new ministerial team now face a huge learning curve.

Earlier this year the UK was heralded as the country in Western Europe best prepared to deal with a pandemic. This is probably still the case, but these plans now need to translate into action otherwise they are pointless.

Read more opinion from the GP editorial team in the editor's blog


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