In his weekly update for HSJ and Nursing Times, national director for NHS flu resilience Ian Dalton discusses the latest developments in UK swine flu preparations

What should NHS staff be focusing their efforts on?

While the number of reported cases of swine flu is still on the increase, cases have not risen with the severity that we had originally feared. We are now well in to the second wave of the swine flu pandemic, but we may be seeing a peak that is lower and earlier than expected. This is good news; however, it may mean that we will see a more extended period of pressure on the NHS as the pandemic continues to be present throughout the winter months, in addition to the seasonal flu that is expected in the new year. For the vast majority, swine flu is a mild disease but the threat that it poses to those in the clinical at risk groups is still there and we have seen a further rise in hospitalisations as a result of swine flu with the current number of patients in critical care at their highest for two months.

The NHS has been preparing for years for a pandemic, putting us in an excellent position to be able to respond effectively to any sudden rise in numbers as a result of the current pandemic, and of course we can’t rule out a third wave as has been experienced in previous pandemics.  We will continue to prepare to respond to the current pandemic and the lessons that we are all learning on the way will stand us in good stead to meet any future challenges – this means the NHS will continue to provide high quality care and save lives.

The next steps

Both the GSK and the Baxter vaccinations have now been licensed for use by the European Commission and we are putting in place the necessary logistics plans to start to deliver the programme, which we hope will begin by the end of October. Vaccination is an important component of our resilience strategy, ensuring that we protect as many staff and people in the clinical high risk groups as possible.  Not only will vaccination help staff protect themselves, their patients, colleagues and families, it will help to minimise the surge on critical care which we know is likely to experience significant pressure during the winter months ahead. 

Progress to date

The Health Protection Agency has reported that the rates of flu-like illness and related activity have shown further increases in England with 18,000 cases this week, up from 14,000 in the previous week. The increase was seen in most age groups.  Further details on the weekly figures can be found on the HPA website where you can find more details about GP consultations, antiviral collection data and hospitalisations.