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?
Before the Christmas and new year break we saw an estimated 6,000 new cases of H1N1 a week, which has since dropped to fewer than 5,000. This significant reduction in people contracting swine flu sits alongside an overall decrease in hospitalisations, although we have seen an increase in critical care admissions among over 65 year olds. So while it is good news that the overall current trend of the pandemic is downwards, we still cannot be complacent, particularly towards the most vulnerable, and we are sadly still seeing deaths as a result of swine flu.
The vaccination programme remains a vital element of our response to swine flu and protecting vulnerable groups is still a priority. On 8 December 2009 we confirmed that the vaccination programme would be rolled out to children under five, and it is excellent news that all PCTs in England now have plans in place to deliver this second phase of the vaccination programme. With some areas having started their vaccination programme before Christmas we are already seeing some excellent progress, with 86,000 doses already administered to under fives.
This is very encouraging, particularly as the second phase of the vaccination programme has only been taking place over the last eight weeks.
We are also delighted at the level of uptake among frontline health workers, which as of 8 January stands at 373,000 doses administered, which equates to 37 per cent of the target group. Compared with last year’s seasonal flu vaccine uptake, which was 124,000, this is approximately a 300 per cent increase in performance and work is still ongoing to vaccinate more. The benefits of vaccinating and protecting as many people in the priority groups as possible will be felt beyond this winter as swine flu will still be circulating in the next flu season, and possibly in the season after that too.
The next steps
As the threat of swine flu to the population appears to be receding, it is right that we start to review our ongoing response and ensure that it remains both clinically effective and appropriate. However, any decision to change elements of the current response will only be taken in consultation key professional bodies.
As we head into the new year, I would just like to repeat my thanks and acknowledgement for the hard work and dedication of all NHS staff who have been involved in the overall response to the pandemic and for ensuring a huge number of people in the high risk and vulnerable groups are now protected against the virus.
Progress to date
All the latest information on the current increase in numbers of flu-like illnesses, GP consultation rates, hospitalisations and deaths can be found on the HPA website. And the most up-to-date clinical information and guidance can be found on the Department of Health website at www.dh.gov.uk/swineflu.