Labour Ministers unprepared for swine flu second wave Lords warn
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said that ministers had failed to offer reassurances that NHS services could deal with the predicted surge, when several million people may become ill.
It called for clarity on how intensive and critical care departments will cope with high patient numbers. It expressed concerns about NHS staff providing services outside their usual expertise if they are transferred around the country to the areas experiencing most demand.
The committee also criticised ministers for not setting up the National Pandemic Flu Service for England earlier in the year.
An interim service is now in operation to diagnose cases over the phone or internet and distribute drugs at pharmacies and health centres. But this was beset by problems when it launched last week, with the website crashing in the first few minutes.
The committee praised the Government’s actions in stockpiling antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and entering into advance purchase agreements for a vaccine for the H1N1 flu strain, but said ministers needed to offer better guidance over who could have access to these treatments.
Swine flu is affecting about 100,000 people a week, and hundreds are being treated in hospital.
Lord Sutherland, the chairman of the committee, said that he was disappointed that tests to examine how the full range of health services would respond in a pandemic had not been carried our earlier.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
The peers said that the national swine flu helpline in England should also have been set up sooner and asked for assurances that it will cope with high demand this autumn.
Lord Jenkin of Roding, a former health secretary, who was asked to sit on the committee’s flu pandemic inquiry, told The Times earlier this year that ministers had said the hotline would be ready by April or May.