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England to get a swine flu 'tzar' Health Secretary announces

UK may only have tamiflu for half the population, says Lancet

OnMedica Staff

Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Britain has appointed a swine flu tsar, the Health Secretary announced today.

Ian Dalton has been appointed the new National Director for NHS Flu Resilience at the Department of Health.

Mr Dalton is currently Chief Executive of NHS North East, but will take up this newly created position with immediate effect, reporting to NHS Chief Executive David Nicholson.

The establishment of this new role follows the recent Swine Flu outbreak, explained Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

Mr Dalton will be responsible for ensuring that all NHS organisations in England build on the planning that is already in place to deal with a flu pandemic, and that NHS front line organisations are supplied with adequate equipment and drugs, and leading on appropriate vaccination programs.

In the Lancet today published Online First, experts praised the UK's overall reaction to the swine flu outbreak, but criticised the Health Protection Agency, stating that, although it issued clear algorithms on what to do in suspected influenza A(H1N1) cases, it did not provide timely advice on practical management, including which swabs to take, which culture medium to use, where to send samples, and how to obtain antiviral medication.

Moreover, Lancet Infectious Diseases Editor John McConnell, questioned whether the current practice of giving oseltamivir (tamiflu) prophylactically to contacts of confirmed cases was sustainable.

He said: “At four schools in the UK where pupils have confirmed infection, prophylactic oseltamivir has been issued to hundreds of fellow students. Although this policy follows Health Protection Agency advice, I wonder about sustainability. At a Lancet conference on pandemic influenza in 2006, Frederick Hayden (University of Virginia, USA) stated that for a group of 1000 people 16 times as much antiviral was needed to prevent influenza infection as to treat it. By this measure, the UK has stockpiles of oseltamivir sufficient to treat 30 million people (about half the population) but to prevent infection in only 1·9 million.”

But Health Secretary Alan Johnson said the UK was well prepared: "We have been preparing for the possibility of a pandemic for a number of years and the World Health Organisation says we are among the most prepared countries in the world." 

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