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?

The second wave of the flu pandemic is under way. Current figures suggest that so far the virus is spreading more slowly than could have been the case. This is good news and gives added importance to our work to get the vaccine to as many people as we can, as soon as we can.  Although the slower spread can be welcomed, the number of people in intensive care as a result of complications from H1N1 is still relatively high, which is causing us concern, and emphasises the public health importance of vaccine.

The first batches of licensed vaccine are now in the NHS distribution network and it is anticipated that the amount of vaccine available to the NHS will increase rapidly over the next few weeks. 

The first supplies will reach NHS acute hospitals from 21 October. All NHS acute hospitals should receive supplies shortly thereafter. These supplies should be used to protect frontline NHS staff as well as any inpatients in at-risk groups in hospital who clinicians feel need to be vaccinated. The supply to each hospital will be scaled to size so that larger hospitals receive more vaccine.

Deliveries to ambulance trusts and mental health trusts are dependent on the further shipment of vaccine supply being received in the UK.  We shall continue to work with the service to firm up delivery points and addresses.  A supply of vaccine will also be sent to each PCT in the week beginning 26 October.

The next steps

In line with previous guidance, all NHS organisations should have developed plans to vaccinate staff directly involved with patient care and now be moving to mobilise them. 

When they receive their vaccine supplies, I am asking PCTs to assist in vaccinating frontline social care staff as well as putting into place their plans to vaccinate NHS frontline community staff.  Social care organisations will receive their supply from their local PCT.  Directors of adult social services will be able to advise PCTs on quantities required. Roy Taylor, national director for social care flu resilience, has contacted all directors of adult social services to update them on the vaccination programme.

The chief medical officer, chief nursing officer and chief pharmaceutical officer have written to GPs, medical and nursing directors, A&E departments, obstetricians and pharmacists with details on dosage, storage, use of vaccines in pregnancy, consumables and wastage, administration, adverse reactions, data collection and information resources.

With the start of the vaccination programme imminent, it is worth taking a moment to reflect once again on all the hard work and effort that nurses, clinicians and managers have undertaken to ensure that the NHS is as resilient as possible as we enter the winter months. As a result of all these efforts the NHS is at a higher state of readiness than ever before. I am confident that delivering an effective vaccination programme will go a long way to ensuring this. 

Progress to date

The HPA has reported that rates of flu-like illness and related activity have shown further increases in England, with 27,000 cases this week, up from 18,000 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.