Health Protection Agency (HPA) figures show there were 40.7 GP consultations for influenza-like illness per 100,000 people in England and Wales last week, below the normal baseline rate of 50. The rate peaked at 124 four weeks ago and the decline suggests the worst of the flu season has passed.
Meanwhile, the DoH has told GP the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) can organise a special meeting in the Spring to inform the 2011/12 flu season if required. Such a meeting was held in December 2010 to review vaccination policy after the DoH was criticised over its decision not to vaccinate the under-5 age group.
Last year, GPs and health workers complained that the JCVI's recommendation to vaccinate pregnant women came too late.
The JCVI typically schedules a meeting to discuss advice for the coming flu season in June.
In 2010, this meant the advice to vaccinate pregnant women, which significantly increased the amount of vaccine required for each practice, was only announced in July - months after GPs began placing orders.
The DoH maintains this still gave GPs enough time to change vaccine orders during the summer.
Latest DoH figures show that patients with flu-like symptoms still occupy 247 critical care beds, or about 7.1% of NHS capacity. A total of 338 deaths from flu have been recorded since October last year. Most of this week’s rise came from verified deaths from previous weeks.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, interim CMO, said: ‘I am cautiously pleased with the decline in cases again this week.’ She warned that winter wasn’t over and people should remain on their guard about catching flu.
Professor Davies continued to urge those in at-risk groups to be vaccinated, adding that it wasn’t too late for the vaccine to be worthwhile. She added: ‘I would like to thank everyone working in the NHS for their hard work and dedication so far this winter. It’s been a tough winter, the NHS has been under pressure but, thanks to the detailed planning that was put in place in advance, it has coped fantastically well.’