A pandemic from a novel influenza virus is an ongoing risk for the UK and it is important that we remain as well prepared as possible to respond to any future influenza pandemic. Pandemic flu and the need for an effective pandemic preparedness strategy continue to be a ministerial priority and the UK is recognised as being amongst the leaders worldwide in preparing for an influenza pandemic.
The current Cabinet Office National Risk Register rates human pandemic disease as potentially the highest impact risk on its matrix. This recognises that:
- From time to time, with unpredictable frequency, a distinctly different strain of influenza virus will emerge that spreads rapidly across the world.
- When an influenza pandemic occurs, large swathes of the population might become infected by the new virus over a relatively short period.
The probability of another influenza pandemic occurring is not affected by the timing of the recent H1N1 2009 (Swine Flu) Pandemic. However, the experience of the 2009 pandemic has helped to inform planning
The inter-pandemic years provide a very important opportunity to develop and strengthen preparations for the potentially serious impact of an influenza pandemic. The Department of Health is the lead Government department for pandemic flu and Public Health England will play a critical role in ensuring that the capability for an influenza pandemic response is effective.
There are a number of key documents to support the planning for pandemic flu preparedness, which are included on the DH website. They include:
- the UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_130903 which was published in November 2011. The strategy is a UK-wide document and was developed jointly across the four UK Governments, with professional, NHS, social care and public health organisations, and based on advice from clinical, scientific and other experts.
- a range of scientific evidence documents in relation to issues such as the use of antivirals, antibiotics and vaccines, the impact of school closures, the impact of mass gatherings, and the routes of transmission of the influenza virus, which support the overall strategy. These can be found at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_125318
- operational guidance for Health and Social Care Influenza Pandemic Preparedness and response: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_133655 which is intended to support local preparedness and response planning in England.
The Department of Health’s role as the lead Government department for pandemic flu will mean that it will continue to have overall responsibility for pandemic flu. This involves setting the strategic and policy framework and securing the financial resources to enable the health policy requirements to be delivered. It will also continue to work closely with the Cabinet Office in relation to the planning and assurances required across Government for pandemic flu preparedness. It will also continue to work with the Devolved Administrations and international partners reflecting the global nature of an influenza pandemic and the need to plan for a UK-wide response.
PHE will be responsible for many of the operational activities currently carried out by the DH pandemic flu team and by the Health Protection Agency, including:
- Developing and maintaining operational policy for clinical counter-measures, including antivirals, antibiotics, vaccines and consumables
- Developing business cases, confirming procurements and managing the stockpiles of countermeasures
- Developing and maintaining the systems and processes required for providing access to the counter-measures, including the National Pandemic Flu Service, the related call centre services, and the storage and distribution required for the stockpiles
- Providing budget management and financial accounting for the stockpiles and systems
- Developing and maintaining systems and processes for pandemic flu surveillance and to perform data collection, management and monitoring
- Providing scientific and clinical advice
- Communications planning
PHE will be working with a wide range of partners in the delivery of pandemic flu preparedness, including the Devolved Administrations, international organisations, the DH Commercial Medicines Unit and the NHS Business Services Authority.
Both DH and Public Health England will be working closely with the NHS Commissioning Board. The NHSCB will be responsible for ensuring that the NHS and local providers of NHS services maintain effective plans, and that up-to-date operational guidance is available to the NHS for use in a pandemic. It is critical that the plans for the distribution of stockpiles, surveillance and communications dovetail with local plans. Engagement with social care is also critical to take account of the pressures faced by both health and social care services during an influenza pandemic.