NHS nurses must be prepared to work outside their traditional competencies should the swine flu pandemic take hold in the UK, according to latest guidelines.
Last week the World Health Organization warned governments to begin putting emergency plans into action and the Department of Health issued a document setting out the possible scale of the situation facing health professionals.
It described a worst-case scenario where, at the peak of a pandemic, there could be 11,000 clinical cases of flu-like illness per 100,000 people, with 440 requiring hospitalisation.
During this period, staff would have to be redeployed, and shift patterns and shift lengths would have to change, the document said. Tying in with this, the NMC issued guidance for nurses should they be called upon to work outside their specialty in the event of a pandemic.
It stated that any nurse working outside their competency should contact a professional from the areas they have been asked to work in for advice and supervision. Midwives could also be called upon to bolster the nursing workforce, the NMC warned.
Gail Adams, Unison’s head of nursing, said: ‘If there is a pandemic, it will be the same reaction as other major incidents. Services will be freed up, patients who are well will be discharged home – we will have to do all we can.
‘The most important thing is that NHS trusts have to have discussions with staff so that together they can offer help and reassurance,’ she said. ‘There may be nurses with young children whose school is closed and may not be able to work. There are a whole range of things that may need to be balanced.’
Ms Adams added: ‘People need to be disciplined in taking care of their own health and well-being. If they feel unwell they need to look after themselves if they develop flu-like symptoms they need to seek advice.’
This week the DH is due to publish a package of clinical pathways and decision parameters to help anyone treating patients with flu symptoms. These will include swine flu community and hospital assessment tools for adults and children under 16, and a GP authorisation voucher for the supply of antiviral oseltamavir liquid medication for infants under one.