To ask the Secretary of State for Health what contingency plans his Department has evaluated for dealing with a flu epidemic this winter; and if he will make a statement. 
[holding answer 24 November 1997]: Outbreaks of influenza occur every winter and measures to ameliorate illness and cope with the increased demand on health care services are part of routine planning. The first priority for health authorities and National Health Service trusts is to make adequate provision for emergency care and there will be plans in place for responding to any increases in demand for treatment. There is currently no reason to believe that this year's flu season will be worse than those seen in recent years. The Department recommends that people with underlying diseases which put them at increased risk of serious illness should they develop flu should receive flu vaccine each year. Doctors were reminded of this policy in August 1997, and at the launch of flu awareness week in October. We know that those most 'at risk' for flu, the complications of flu and those most likely to be admitted to hospital for flu are patients with chronic risk conditions: studies have continued to show that those in 'at risk' groups benefit most from vaccination.So far this year a record 6.9 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed. General practitioners and practice nurses are encouraged to make sure they give flu vaccine to as many people at risk from the complications of flu as possible. Leaflets entitled 'Flu vaccination' and 'What should I do about flu?' have been made available to practices through the Department of Health. Copies are also available in the Library. Flu activity is reported on a weekly basis. We monitor the situation closely once the normal winter increase in flu activity begins and situation reports are used to keep health authorities advised of any unusual levels of activity.