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Ian Dalton's swine flu update - big drop in new cases, but deaths rise

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In his weekly update for HSJ and Nursing Times, national director for NHS flu resilience Ian Dalton discusses the latest developments in UK swine flu preparations

What should NHS staff be focusing their efforts on?

This week has seen a substantial drop in the number of new swine flu cases in England to 22,000 as at 3rd December. While it is too early to know whether we have passed the peak of a second wave, this is positive news. However, there are still a high number of people in hospital and in critical care with the virus, particularly children under five. Sadly, the number of deaths continues to rise.

The vaccination programme continues to progress well among priority groups and frontline healthcare workers. A total of 1.8 million doses of the vaccine have now been delivered in England, and an estimated 1.6 million doses have been administered to those at-risk patients in the first priority groups. Vaccination of frontline health workers in England has also been going well, and in the first four weeks of the programme 275,000 doses have been administered. This is an excellent start and is more than double the number of seasonal flu doses administered in the whole of the 2008 winter season.

The next steps

These uptake figures are encouraging, but there is still more work to be done, and it must continue to remain a priority for all NHS organisations to ensure that all eligible frontline staff are vaccinated.

As I mentioned last week, once the initial priority groups are complete, however, the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation supports our decision to offer the vaccine to all healthy children over six months and under five years of age. Children under five are the age group with the consistently highest levels of hospital admissions. By vaccinating as many children as possible, we will be offering them the best possible protection against the virus.

While we are still to finalise the logistics of how the vaccine will be delivered to this age group, we expect that general practice will want to continue to be a key component in its delivery. We are currently working with the BMA and NHS organisations to agree exactly how this will take place and hope to be able to make an announcement concerning this in the near future.

Progress to date

All the latest information on the current increase in numbers of flu-like illnesses, GP consultation rates, hospitalisations and deaths can be found on the HPA website.

The most up-to-date clinical information and guidance can be found on the Department of Health website at www.dh.gov.uk/swineflu.

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