A matter of preparedness
Are we ready for the next pandemic?
In the UK, concerns about H5N1 avian flu meant that the country had a plan for dealing with a flu pandemic. Indeed, anticipating a future flu pandemic – ‘preparedness’ – is now commonplace all over the world.
Flu planning swung into action once it was clear that a global outbreak was underway and that, inevitably, the UK would be affected. In her review of the UK’s response, Dame Deirdre Hine concluded that “overall, the UK response was highly satisfactory”. She added: “The planning for a pandemic was well developed, the personnel involved were fully prepared, the scientific advice provided was expert, communication was excellent, the NHS and public health services right across the UK and their suppliers responded splendidly and the public response was calm and collaborative.”
Nevertheless, there was always scope for improvement, and the Hine Review made a number of recommendations to improve future responses, particularly greater flexibility during an evolving outbreak.
The potential remains for up to half of the UK population to be infected, and for between 20,000 and 750,000 additional deaths.
Indeed, it can be almost guaranteed that another flu pandemic will emerge. In November 2011, drawing on the Hine Review and other lessons learned, the government launched an updated UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy.
What is particularly striking about the strategy is its remarkable breadth. It sets out the framework for responses not just in health and social care, but also throughout all sectors of government – transport, telecommunications, energy and so on – and across the devolved administrations. Guidance is also provided for the private sector – everyone needs to play their part in controlling flu and ensuring the country still functions in the midst of a pandemic.
The mildness of the last pandemic might have led to complacency in the face of the threat from flu. The scope and scale of the strategy is evidence of how seriously the threat of flu is still taken. The potential remains for up to half of the UK population to be infected, and for between 20,000 and 750,000 additional deaths. In the interests of transparency, the Department of Health has also published the scientific evidence on which its strategy is based.
The UK strategy sits within a wider international framework. The World Health Organization (WHO) plays a critical role in global flu monitoring and in formally characterising outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics. It also promotes coordinated international action and development of preparedness plans.
Within Europe the European Commission has established a preparedness plan to promote the coordination of responses and encourage the adoption of good practice.
- UK Cabinet Office: Independent review into the response to the 2009 swine flu pandemic
- Gov.uk: Guidance – pandemic flu
- UK Cabinet Office: Overarching government strategy to respond to a flu pandemic – analysis of the scientific evidence base
- WHO: Influenza – pandemic preparedness
- European Commission: Influenza pandemic preparedness