Swine flu verdict: Govt 'under-prepared'

Govt caught off guard by swine flu
Govt caught off guard by swine flu

By Alex Stevenson

The government's response to the swine flu threat has been "under-prepared" and "disappointing", peers have said.

The Lords' science and technology committee says the Department of Health (DoH) is struggling in a number of ways in the face of the pandemic.

It says there are "significant concerns" about delays to the national pandemic flu service (NPFS), which was finally launched last week and will only be fully operational by the autumn.

The report expresses disappointment at the lack of 'whole system' testing, examining how the full range of health services could react in a pandemic, before the threat loomed as large as it now does.

And it wants to know how NHS staff will be supported if they are asked to perform functions outside their usual duties. Better guidance on who deserves limited flu treatments and vaccines is also needed, it adds.

Committee chairman Lord Sutherland said: "While the government have got some things right in preparing for a flu pandemic, such as the stockpiling of antivirals, there are other areas where we appear to be under-prepared.

"We are particularly concerned that the 'enhanced' NPFS or 'flu line' is not fully operational and there seems to be a lack of clarity about how the 'interim' flu line will interact with NHS Direct."

Last Thursday chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson told journalists the weekly number of new cases of swine flu had doubled to an estimated 100,000.

He said there would not be a strain on intensive care beds, despite the fact there are currently 840 swine flu hospitalisations.

There are 3,800 critical care beds in this country for adults and 603 more for children and additional beds can be opened up if needed. Concerns remain, however. Peers today said they wanted to see extra clarity from the government on how intensive and critical care facilities would be expected to perform.

Worries over the government's preparations for swine flu, which is expected to return in force this autumn and winter, will underpin a conference on its potential impact on business taking place today.

The British Chambers of Commerce fears one in eight employees could be off work by the end of August if current trends continue, leading to major staff absence issues.

It will be hosting a live WebTV show at 11:00 BST this morning to assess the situation.


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