In the first of a regular weekly update from the Department of Health, exclusive to HSJ and Nursing Times, national director of NHS flu resilience Ian Dalton discusses what health managers and nurses need to know about the swine flu pandemic

I want to congratulate all NHS staff, but particularly nurses and managers for doing a great job in dealing with the threat of a swine flu pandemic. The most important issue for them to be aware of right now is vaccination. The vaccine manufacturers have told us they expect the swine flu vaccine to be licensed by the end of September or beginning of October. Once it is, the following groups should be prioritised:

1. Individuals aged six months and up to 65 years in the current seasonal flu vaccine clinical at-risk groups.

2. All pregnant women, subject to licensing considerations on trimesters.

3. Household contacts of immunocompromised individuals.

4. People aged 65 and over in the current seasonal flu vaccine clinical at-risk groups.

These groups have been identified because they are at highest risk of severe illness should they contract the swine flu virus.

What should NHS staff be focusing their efforts on?

Traditionally, take up of the seasonal flu vaccine among NHS staff is very low. But this year I would urge every NHS organisation to take a robust approach. Frontline staff must be vaccinated to protect them, their families and patients from the swine flu virus. This is an important part of organisational resilience and local leadership.

I’m confident that all NHS managers will take every necessary step to ensure the maximum possible uptake of both the swine flu and seasonal flu vaccines amongst frontline staff.

The next steps

The Health Protection Agency published their weekly data briefing summarising the numbers of swine flu cases, hospitalisations and deaths. They reported a further reduction in rates of flu-like illness and related activity.

But history tells us to expect a second wave in the autumn/winter and we will be reviewing and testing plans to ensure we can cope. We will continue to do this over the coming weeks, and managers and frontline staff will always be kept up to date.

Progress to date

The NHS has been able to withstand the early pressures of the swine flu pandemic because of the dedication of our workforce. I would just like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for all their hard work, and I’d like to extend that thanks to the readers of HSJ and Nursing Times for all their efforts.

The national pandemic flu service, launched last month, is again a credit to colleagues who put in the extra mile to make it happen.