In his weekly update for HSJ and Nursing Times, national director for NHS flu resilience Ian Dalton discusses what is being done to prepare for the upcoming swine flu vaccination programme

What should NHS staff be focusing their efforts on?

We have once again seen a rise in the number of cases of swine flu with the latest figures from the Health Protection Agency showing an estimated 14,000 new cases in the last week, with the largest rises being seen in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. While it is too early to say for sure whether this trend indicates the start of a second wave of the pandemic, it reinforces the need to ensure that we are as prepared as possible as we head towards the winter months. 

A key element of the resilience planning has always been the roll-out of the vaccination programme and with the full licence being granted to the GSK vaccine and the European Medicines Agency recommending the Baxter vaccine be approved for licensing, we are moving closer to being able to deliver our vaccination programme towards the end of October.

I have previously written to all NHS organisations asking them to set out their staff vaccination plans. A successful staff vaccination programme must be well resourced, visible and easily accessible and will require effective leadership, communications and logistical planning. The Department of Health will be providing central resources to support local communications around the programme, but this must be underpinned by effective operational processes.

Whilst we will be relying on clinical colleagues to deliver the vaccinations to priority groups, I have also been quite clear with the leadership and management community in the NHS that there is a board responsibility to maximise staff participation in the vaccination programme. Of course, vaccination is optional, but in the height of a pandemic nurses, doctors and all frontline health and social care workers will be absolutely critical. Delivering an effective vaccination programme will ensure that patients continue to be provided with high quality care and will help us to save lives.

I also asked all PCTs to develop plans to identify, communicate with and vaccinate patients in the at risk groups, including those not registered with a GP practice, and I expect this work to be well under way. 

The next steps

As part of the swine flu critical care clinical group, a sub-group was set up to give advice to the Department of Health in the context of the H1N1 pandemic on the potential for ECMO to assist the response.

Dr Judith Hulf, who is the chair of the group, put forward the group’s clear recommendation that in line with the current plans to double critical care capacity in the UK, the existing respiratory ECMO capacity at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester should also be doubled. 

Existing long-standing reciprocal arrangements outside the UK, which have recently worked well, will continue to support this service.  The group does not support the expansion of respiratory ECMO at hospital units that are not currently providing it. The group believes that the current standard for a respiratory ECMO service for adults is that provided by Glenfield Hospital and any such services must be commissioned and provided to that standard.

Progress to date

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.