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Primary care blog: Can we cope with a flu pandemic?

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Primary care expert Lynn Young on the devastating threat of a flu pandemic

It is time to talk about the possible and anticipated flu pandemic once more. But I am not competent to speak about scientific mutation of viruses and bacteria, international spread of contagious diseases, possible demands on ICU beds or epidemiological studies.

I am far more fascinated in the social aspects of the pandemic and how, if certain events happen, widespread social disorder and civic unrest might take over our rather peaceful British communities.

So let’s consider how life will be if:

1. Government issues an order stating that local councils have the right to instantaneously close all schools, nurseries and institutes of higher education. Nurses continue to be predominately female, with huge domestic responsibilities, including the care of young children. What is going to happen to our health services, once there is no baby, toddler and school care available? It is simple - a considerable number of nurses will not be able to work in their usual way and usual healthcare settings.

2. Estimates around the figure of, at the height of the pandemic, 50% of the population suffering from very unpleasant symptoms come true. On top of this, people will be highly contagious and therefore need to be kept away from other people, particularly those who happen to have long-term conditions and are therefore at greater risk.

3. Workers decide to struggle into the office, armed with boxes of tissues and Day Nurse capsules. Employers need to be strong and issue a dictat telling people to stay at home and not infect their colleagues.

4. There is an unprecedented demand on hospital beds and intensive care units. If matters get bad, there will be insufficient beds available and few nurses to look after patients (assuming that schools will close in some areas). The question is, will relatives and friends of the profoundly sick become aggressive and perhaps violent if hospital beds are filled, rather then empty and able to accept sick people who have previously been admitted.

5. The provision of vaccination programmes are unable to contain the pandemic. Although stock piling of vaccines is happening, we will not have enough to vaccinate 58 million people.

Therefore a large proportion of the population maybe refused the vaccine, on account of other people being deemed by the authorities to be at greater risk and therefore higher up the list of those who can be vaccinated.

6. There is whole scale rioting and social upheaval because our public services break down, transport systems simply stop and our social infrastructure collapses.

We will simply all have to cope as best as we can and hope that community citizenship prevails.

On the other hand, the flu pandemic may decide to leave the UK alone.

For now, all we need to worry about is the fact that our financial institutions are collapsing around us.

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