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The British Medical Association has attacked the choice of British boxing icon Sir Henry Cooper to front this year's national flu immunisation campaign.

Campaign resource packs were issued by the Department of Health this week. The campaign, with the tagline 'Don't get knocked out by flu, get your jab in first' will start on 18 September.

The campaign is a key part of the government's attempt to prevent a winter crisis this year, but the BMA described the choice of Sir Henry as 'totally inappropriate'.

A spokesperson for the association, which is opposed to boxing on principle, told HSJ it would understand if surgeries declined to use the posters.

He added: 'To take someone who is famous for a pastime in which the whole object is to knock someone senseless and then link that with good health is bizarre.'

The DoH asked the BMA for its opinions before details of the campaign were announced.

It was told that the association would not support the use of Sir Henry, but its spokesperson said: 'We suspect the plans had gone too far before they asked our views.'

Geof Rayner, chair of the UK Public Health Association said it 'did not disagree' with the BMA's criticisms. 'The department could have picked Jack Jones or someone from the pensioners' movement with none of the negative health messages.'

The DoH is believed to be spending£2m on the campaign, which will run instead of last October's flu awareness week.

Advertisements will run for six weeks on daytime TV, in newspapers and specialist press. These will be backed up by a two-week reminder television campaign in the last two weeks of November.

Health secretary Alan Milburn announced earlier this year that the age threshold for free flu immunisation would be lowered from 75 to 65.

As in previous years, 'at risk' groups will also be eligible for free flu jabs.

This week staff from accident and emergency units at 16 trusts throughout England met in London in a bid to stop long waits on trolleys in the winter.

The workshops were organised by the national patient access team. One of the ideas discussed was the possibility of a stronger role for NHS Direct in triaging patients in casualty units.

The government is planning to open NHS Direct telephone lines nationally for the flu campaign.

See comment, page 19.

www.doh.gov.uk/flu/campaignupdate/index.htm