Nurses and other healthcare professionals will be issued with guidance on how to protect themselves from people attempting to steal antivirals in the event of a flu pandemic, Nursing Times has learnt.
The government has stockpiled enough oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) to cover 80% of the UK population, and is currently using small quantities of the drugs as part of efforts to contain the initial 34 UK cases.
However, a number of websites have already been selling the antivirals independently, suggesting a degree of public panic, and the NHS Security Management Service is concerned that demand could escalate should cases become more widespread.
As a result, it has issued guidance to trusts intended to ensure the safety of staff and the security of supplies. As Nursing Times went to press, exact details of this guidance had not been announced for security reasons.
Richard Hampton, head of the SMS, said: ‘There are issues about staff handing out antivirals. They have a value – there is a potential theft issue there and a potential issue for the safety of staff who are handing these things out.
‘It [the guidance] is ensuring that the antivirals are kept secure, that the transfer to distribution centres is secure and that the staff distributing them have conflict resolution training,’ he told Nursing Times.
A Department of Health spokesperson confirmed that nurses were likely to be involved in distributing antiviral drugs, should cases become widespread in the community.
‘At the moment the drugs are being distributed through GPs and World Health Organization staff – but in the future this could be reviewed,’ he said. ‘We are looking at our plans in the future and nurses could well be a part of that.’
Speaking at a Department of Health briefing on swine flu last week, health secretary Alan Johnson warned that there was now a danger of complacency over swine flu.‘In the early stages the danger was the outbreak might spark widespread panic, now the danger is complacency,’ he said.
Chief medical officer for England Sir Liam Donaldson added: ‘Most of the experts I’ve talked to believe this a classic start of a pandemic,’ said Sir Liam. ‘You get a bit of spluttering around of outbreaks in the spring and summer, then it goes fairly quiet for a while, and then it hits the country again in the flu season of the autumn and winter.’