Labour attacks Lansley over missing flu campaign

Labour has criticised the coalition government for dropping the annual flu awareness campaign, after a report found this may have led to hundreds of preventable deaths in the winter after the swine flu pandemic.

Andy Burnham: 'Now patients may have paid the highest price for the health secretary's inability to listen.'
Andy Burnham: 'Now patients may have paid the highest price for the health secretary's inability to listen.'

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called on the government to reverse its decision ahead of the coming flu season following the review by former CMO for England Sir Liam Donaldson.

It comes after a GP exclusive revealed that the report found the coalition's 'laissez-faire' attitude to swine flu in the year after the pandemic outbreak may have contributed to hundreds of deaths and critical care admissions.

Public health leaders also warned that the NHS reforms have left eme­rgency plans ‘confused’, posing a ‘real risk’ that no-one will take command in a future public health emergency.

Responding to the review, Mr Burnham said: 'Expert warnings do not come any more high-level and serious than this review from a former CMO.

'Labour and public health experts repeatedly warned Andrew Lansley that axing the annual flu awareness campaign would have severe consequences. Now patients may have paid the highest price for his inability to listen.'

Mr Burnham said the health secretary 'wilfully ignores medical evidence and expert advice'.

He added: 'The government failed to initiate public awareness campaigns for two consecutive winters. Now the government's top-down NHS reorganisation risks a repeat of these failings; it is are inflicting chaos on the health service and the ability to plan for public health emergencies has been weakened.

'There is now an overwhelming case for a change of policy in advance of the next flu season.'

Responding to the report, DH director of immunisation Professor David Salisbury said the department disagreed with some of the report's conclusions as being 'inappropriate comparisons'.

'For example, the authors have compared periods of high levels of flu that happened in completely different circumstances. The first two waves were in the summer and autumn while the third was in a particularly cold winter so it was not surprising there were more hospital admissions and unfortunately more deaths in 2010/11,' he said.

'The paper also makes irrelevant comparisons with the US and Canada which had virtually no H1N1 in 2010/11- it had H3N2 instead - and with European countries which had very different flu pandemics to ours.'

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