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Swine Flu

Volume 496: debated on Thursday 16 July 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) pursuant to the statement of 12 June 2009, Official Report, columns 1052-63, on swine flu update, what plans are in place to ensure that critical care capacity is in place where it is needed; and what recent assessment he has made of the level of critical care capacity required to meet those needs; (283907)

(2) what steps he is taking to ensure the operation surveillance and testing for swine flu of people in hospital with respiratory illnesses;

(3) what percentage of those diagnosed with swine flu have required intensive care treatment to date.

It is not possible to estimate the number of critical care beds required in a flu pandemic because this will depend upon a range of factors such as the clinical attack rate, the most ‘at risk’ population and the number of flu victims requiring intensive care. The percentage of those diagnosed with swine flu that have required intensive care treatment is less than 1 per cent.

In the ‘Managing Demand and Capacity in Health Care Organisations (Surge)’ guidance, it is advised that, within their local flu contingency plans, acute hospitals will aim to double the number of critical care beds available. A copy of the guidance has already been placed in the Library. Managing demand will also be achieved by cancelling elective work and redeploying clinical staff from services such as theatres to help provide a level of critical care across this increased demand. The guidance also includes measures to relieve pressure such as increased use of agency and retired staff.

In June 2009, the Chief Medical Officer issued advice to national health service staff about the measures they should take to ensure adequate surveillance and testing of hospital patients for swine flu. A copy of that advice has been placed in the Library.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health pursuant to the statement of 12 June 2009, Official Report, columns 1052-63, on swine flu update, from which locations in each primary care trust area patients who require antiviral medication are being asked to collect that medication; what the reasons are for the time taken to designate such collection points; and when he expects all arrangements for such collection points to be in place. (283908)

Primary care trusts already have arrangements in place for antiviral collection points as part of pandemic flu planning. Strategic health authorities have been reviewing this earlier this year to ensure that plans are robust, that a good spread is available across each PCT geographically and that sufficient collection points can be up and running to meet the needs of the population. All PCTs are able to establish an initial antiviral collection point (ACP) within 48 hours, to provide at least one ACP which can be operational on a 24/7 basis with the remainder offering a range of opening hours dependent upon demand. Within seven days of the request to mobilise PCTs are able to have sufficient ACPs up and running to meet the needs of the population as necessary. Timing of mobilisation of collection points and locations will depend upon the level of demand from swine flu in each local area. PCTs in each area are providing local communications in each area to tell the population where collection points are located. The detail of where all collection points are operating is not held centrally.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health pursuant to the statement of 12 June 2009, Official Report, columns 1052-63, on swine flu update, for what reasons the National Pandemic Flu Line service will not be operational until the autumn; and what estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of the change to the timetable for the establishment of the full service. (283909)

The full National Pandemic Flu service continues to be planned for operation during the autumn, if required. As a result of the swine flu outbreak the build of the original ‘flu line’ system was put on hold so that an interim solution, including additional antiviral collection point functionality, could be developed and tested to be available more quickly if needed. The additional costs related to building the interim solution amount to approximately £2.5 million and are the only additional system build costs incurred to date in respect of the interim solution.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health pursuant to the statement of 12 June 2009, Official Report, columns 1052-63, on swine flu update, who the members of the strategic advisory group of experts are; on which dates the group has met; and if he will place in the Library a copy of the minutes of each such meeting. (283910)

On 12 June 2009, the Secretary of State for Health mentioned “SAGE” but in error referred to the strategic advisory group of experts, which advises the World Health Organisation on immunisation. He intended to refer to the scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE), which has been established to provide cross government scientific advice regarding the outbreak of swine flu.

The members of this committee are as follows:

Professor John Beddington (Co-Chair)

Professor Sir Gordon Duff (Co-Chair)

Professor David Harper (Lead Government Department)

Professor Sir Roy Anderson

Professor Dame Sally Davies (Departmental Chief Scientific Adviser)

Dr. Meirion Evans

Professor Neil Ferguson

Professor George Griffin

Dr. Peter Grove

Professor Andrew Hall

Dr. Stephen Inglis

Dr. Steve Leach

Professor Susan Michie

Professor Angus Nicoll

Professor Karl Nicholson

Professor Peter Openshaw

Professor Deenan Pillay

Sir John Skehel

Professor Jonathan Van Tam

Professor Maria Zambon

SAGE was established in May 2009 and has since had 11 meetings on the following dates:

5, 8, 12, 18, 20, 26 May

2, 9, 15, 22, 29 June

We will not be placing copies of the minutes of each SAGE meeting in the Library at the present time. The majority of SAGE work is directly commenting on or providing input to the formulation of Government policy. In addition, in order for SAGE to work effectively, members need to be free to discuss issues openly, including confidential evidence in their deliberations. The publication of the minutes may therefore prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs. However, we will keep the publication of minutes under review.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health pursuant to the statement of 12 June 2009, Official Report, columns 1052-62, on swine flu update, what decisions the Health Minister took regarding pandemic influenza in 2007. (284273)

Departmental Ministers have been fully engaged in preparations for pandemic influenza for many years. Final decisions on pandemic preparedness have been the responsibility of the Secretary of State.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will bring forward proposals to enable people to purchase anti-pyretics in greater quantities over the counter for preparation in the event of them contracting swine influenza. (286366)

There are no current plans to do this. Antipyretics such as paracetamol and aspirin are available in packs of 16 tablets or capsules from general sale outlets such as supermarkets and up to two packs can be purchased at any one time. Larger packs of 32 tablets or capsules are designated as pharmacy medicines and are sold by or under the supervision of a pharmacist. Pharmacists have the professional discretion to sell up to 100 tablets or capsules without a prescription if they consider this is in the best interests of the patient. The need for professional advice and supervision when supplying these medicines does not reduce during a pandemic.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether all primary care trusts have antiviral collection points accessible to all their populations. (287306)

Each primary care trust, or where demand from swine flu has been very modest across a number of PCTs has been asked to mobilise at least one antiviral collection point locally. More have been opened to respond to the level of demand from patients and the public for rapid access to antivirals.