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GPs are central to pandemic flu plan

Doctors called on to read new framework and plan for their patients

Lisa Hitchen

Friday, 23 November 2007

GPs have been urged to read the new pandemic flu framework and rework their own local plans to take into account its changes.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) underlined the important role family doctors would play should pandemic flu happen, following yesterday’s launch of a new framework.

‘The role of GPs and practice teams is now much clearer,’ acknowledged Dr Maureen Baker, honorary secretary and chairwoman of the RCGP’s emergency planning group ‘We would urge GP practices to consult this and revise their service continuity plans accordingly.’

Other measures aimed at healthworkers include proposals to buy 350 million surgical facemasks and 34 million disposable respirators to use when treating patients with symptoms of flu.

And there are plans to purchase of14.7 million courses of antibiotics for treatment of secondary infections such as pneumonia. Such a measure could help prevent serious illness and deaths in at-risk groups, said Dr Baker.

The Department of Health is also consulting with the public on ways to change laws around medicines so that patients can still get prescription only drugs easily through other routes should GPs be busy dealing with those most seriously affected by the pandemic. 

In the summer, the Government signed agreements with GSK and Baxter to supply enough pandemic specific vaccine for the whole of the UK once the pandemic strain has been identified.

The new framework prepares for a ‘reasonable worst case’ scenario that more than 25% of the population will be affected and so includes plans to double the stock of antiviral medications that will be available to cover 50% of the population.

The framework provides more detail for organisations to develop ways to manage during a pandemic than the last framework published in 2005. This includes advice on how community care will function, school closures, travelling abroad and how a pandemic will impact on public gatherings. It says a national flu line will be set up to tell people how to get antivirals.

Speaking at the publication of the new document, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, said: ‘This framework will enable organisations such as schools, businesses, transport, and the NHS to prepare for a pandemic in an integrated manner, with the full support of cross-government policy and planning,’ he said.

‘But many changes can be made now. Developing habits for respiratory hygiene - using tissues, disposing of them carefully, and cleaning hands - are all good practice even before a pandemic arrives.’

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