Pandemic flu report from Lords Committee

28 July 2009

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has today published its follow-up report on pandemic influenza.

While the report praises the Government’s actions in stockpiling antivirals such as Tamiflu, and entering into advance purchase agreements for pandemic specific vaccines, the Committee criticises other aspects of the Government’s preparations for the swine flu pandemic.

Some of the criticisms the Committee makes include:

  • The Committee wants clarity on how intensive and critical care facilities would be expected to perform in a pandemic and where there are weaknesses in critical care provision which should be addressed.
  • The Committee has ‘significant concerns’ about the delay in the operation of the National Pandemic Flu Service (NPFS) and asks the Government to explain this delay. It also seeks assurances that the service will be able to meet anticipated demand and be fully operational by autumn to meet the challenges of the anticipated ‘second wave’ of swine flu.
  • The Committee is disappointed the process of ‘whole system’ testing (examining how the full range of health services could react in a pandemic) was not carried our earlier.
  • The Committee asks the Government to clarify what interim services are in place until the ‘enhanced’ NPFS comes on-stream and to make clear how the service will interact with NHS Direct.
  • The report calls on the Government to clarify how they will ensure NHS staff are supported in providing services that may be outside their areas of expertise and if they will be protected from legal action when they provide this treatment. The Committee also wants better guidance on ethical decisions on who could have access to limited flu treatments/vaccines.

Commenting on the Report, Lord Sutherland, Chairman of the Committee, 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.

"We were surprised and disappointed that the Government had not undertaken ‘whole system’ testing of health services preparations for a flu pandemic before swine flu emerged."

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