Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pandemic flu and public services

With the current avian flu outbreak in East Anglia, its worth thinking about the readiness of public services for a pandemic influenza outbreak.

I think we are a bit wary of scares and consultants talking up risks after the 2000 Millennium Bug - but I think this is different.

The World Health Organisation believe that pandemic flu is “
inevitable”. The absence rates are likely to be high and pretty unpredictable. Infection rates of up to 30% have been seen in some flu outbreaks. Also don’t forget those absent due to caring for family members or just too scared to work, use the bus, etc.

The readiness of the public and not-for-profit sector is variable.

The NHS appears well prepared – as you would expect.

There is lots of guidance (pdfs attached) for
schools, FE colleges and HE institutions – I just hope someone is reading and using it! I do know one FE college that has run a pandemic flu simulation exercise but they may be unusual as they learned a lot from managing biohazards during the Foot & Mouth outbreak.

The social housing sector is, I fear, way behind. (Hopefully I will be proven wrong.) I’ve seen housing associations update Business Continuity Plans omitting what is possibly the biggest threat of disruption. The risks will be particularly serious where associations run social care provision.

I don’t blame housing associations – where is the guidance from the National Housing Federation, the Housing Corporation and the Department for Communities and Local Government? (Again, please someone, prove me wrong.)

The situation in the voluntary and community sector may be just as unprepared – or worse - even though these organisations have a vital role in our society – particularly in relation to some of the most vulnerable.

I would suggest that any organisation without contingency plans for pandemic flu make use of the guidance from the
government, the Health & Safety Executive and the private sector as well as the information available for other sectors and business organisations (pdf attached) – and do so urgently.

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