Skip to main content

Swine Flu

Volume 493: debated on Monday 1 June 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what steps are being taken to ensure that hospitals are able to deal with a swine influenza pandemic; (276620)

(2) what his latest estimate is of the likelihood of a swine influenza pandemic;

(3) what steps his Department has taken to prepare for a possible swine influenza pandemic.

The Department has already provided a great deal of support to hospitals in the form of guidance and on-going workshops to ensure that contingency and business continuity issues have been thought through in advance of a pandemic and addressed. Model exercises have been provided to support the national health service in raising awareness and testing the robustness of these plans. Each primary care trust also has a designated flu lead to assist organisations with planning across their geographic area.

We have published guidance on infection control in hospitals and surgeries, and advice to staff treating or caring for patients with flu symptoms. A copy has been placed in the Library. We have also issued guidance to ambulance trusts. A copy of this guidance has already been placed in the Library.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State stated on 14 May 2009, Official Report, columns 1059-1095, that the likelihood of the current outbreak developing into a full blown pandemic remains high, but there are still many uncertainties about the virus. That is still the case. Scientists are learning more every day and we are continuing to monitor the situation so that if the virulence or severity of the virus worsens we can react quickly.

The Department has been planning for a possible influenza pandemic for some time and has robust plans in place. We have enough antiviral stocks to cover 50 per cent. of the population (some 33.5 million courses); we are further increasing the stockpile so that it is enough to cover 80 per cent. of the population (some 50 million courses).

We also expect flu line, which will be used to assess symptoms and authorise anti-virals for individuals, to be operational by the autumn, thus ensuring we have additional capability to respond to a re-emergence of the virus.

On 15 May, the Government also announced the signing of agreements with vaccine manufacturers for up to 90 million doses of a pre-pandemic vaccine based on the current H1N1 strain. The agreements could provide enough vaccine to protect the most vulnerable groups in our population before a pandemic is likely to arrive. In the event of a pandemic, the advanced purchase agreements previously signed with Baxter and GlaxoSmithKline will be activated; these will enable the United Kingdom to purchase enough vaccine to cover 100 per cent. of the UK population.

In addition, we are increasing our stocks of facemasks, respirators and antibiotics to ensure we have sufficient stocks of countermeasures to tackle a re-emergence of swine influenza later in the year.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress has been made on distribution to households of information leaflets on swine influenza to date; when he expects national distribution to be complete; and if he will make a statement. (277246)

The distribution of the swine influenza information leaflets to households has been completed for the vast majority of the United Kingdom. We are awaiting confirmation of delivery to a few outstanding areas.