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Pandemic Flu

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Dr Brian Gibbons, Minister for Health & Social Services

The revised UK Pandemic Influenza Contingency Plan, published yesterday, sets out detailed actions to reduce the health impact of a pandemic, the disruption that may be caused to essential services and people’s daily lives, and steps to help the NHS in Wales and society to prepare, as far as possible.

Key elements in the UK Contingency Plan include:

• Clear leadership and co-ordination at all levels

• Effective communication with health professionals and the public

• Information and data gathering, together with assessment of risks

• Use of antiviral drugs and vaccines (when a pandemic vaccine becomes available).

Planning assumptions based on mathematical modelling suggest that a cumulative total of 25 per cent of the UK population or about 15 million people may suffer flu during a pandemic (this equates to 750,000 people in Wales), with a proportional increase in hospital admissions, sick leave and deaths.

Against this background, the Cabinet first discussed pandemic flu in September and the First Minister is chairing fortnightly meetings with Ministers and officials on avian and pandemic flu issues.  The Chief Medical Officer for Wales has set up a Pandemic Flu Steering Group that has been meeting weekly since July.  He has briefed the press this week along similar lines to the Chief Medical Officers for England and the other home countries.  He makes it clear that whilst a flu pandemic is not guaranteed, and may not happen this year, planning and preparedness are essential.    

Work has been in hand for some time to ensure that the NHS and its partners are fully engaged in Emergency Planning arrangements. An Assembly-led group has produced the Wales Framework for Managing Major Infectious Disease Emergencies, such as pandemic flu.  The Framework provides guidance to assist local and national planning including arrangements to support the UK Pandemic Influenza Contingency Plan.  The Framework can be accessed at the Chief Medical Officer for Wales and HOWIS websites.

Preparations are well in hand, in Wales, as part of the overall UK contingency planning.   A communications strategy is in place with the first public information leaflet to be distributed to GP surgeries, pharmacies, care homes and a variety of other locations next month.  Preparation of further information materials for the public and professionals is well advanced in readiness for a pandemic.

Information is now being sent to health professionals throughout Wales drawing their attention to the revised UK Plan, the development of a Welsh framework for managing major infectious disease emergencies, and the Welsh Assembly Government’s arrangements to communicate with both health professionals and the public.

The revised UK Influenza Pandemic Contingency Plan can be accessed at www.dh.gov.uk/pandemicflu.