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Swine Flu

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 9 July 2009


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

As I announced in my Oral Statement to the House on 2 July (Official Report, col. 497) part of the move to the new treatment phase of our response to the current swine flu pandemic will involve a new way of collecting and publishing information about swine flu.

The treatment phase refers to the period when antivirals are used only for treating those who have contracted the illness; contact tracing ceases as does providing antivirals for prophylaxis. The swabbing and testing of all cases also ceases.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) had previously been collecting, compiling and releasing United Kingdom figures on a daily basis on its website. These statistics set out the number of laboratory confirmed cases, as well as clinically presumed cases.

Because we will rely on clinical diagnosis instead of laboratory confirmation of swabs to identify cases of swine flu, we cannot continue to measure total number of cases in the same way as we have been doing. This is because without testing everyone we would not know how many swine flu cases there are among other cases of influenza-like illnesses.

Therefore, to replace the data previously published, we will need to move to higher level estimates of spread. This will be combined with other key indicators to give a fuller picture of the progress of swine flu.

The Chief Medical Officer will be setting out today the format and content of a weekly situation report, which will cover:

estimates of influenza-like illness cases, estimated using two different surveillance systems;

the number of calls to NHS information lines for colds/flu;

the number of deaths of patients with swine flu (reported deaths where the cases have tested positive for swine flu); and

the number of hospitalisations (any swine flu in-patient over the past 24 hours who has been H1N1 swabbed or clinically presumed)

This change reflects the World Health Organisation- led move away from the comprehensive assessment component of surveillance, where the focus is on characterising the clinical, epidemiological and virological features of a new disease, to the monitoring component, where the focus is on monitoring geographical spread, trends, intensity and impact.

The UK has well established, and internationally respected, surveillance systems for monitoring incidence and assessing the impact of seasonal influenza. These systems have operated well through the normal flu season over the last few years and we will build on them as we refine the revised surveillance system for swine flu.

The revised system will be augmented by additional surveillance activities that are relevant to the pandemic situation. This will include continuing to assess the severity of disease associated with this novel virus, and monitoring changes in the characteristics of the virus.

In addition to this, honourable Members will receive a weekly update on the impact of swine flu in their local area.