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Revealed: Swine flu costs approaching £40m

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: The NHS has already spent almost £40 million responding to the first wave of the swine flu pandemic, a Pulse investigation reveals.

Preliminary figures gathered by Pulse from PCTs across the country and the Department of Health give the first indication of the massive financial strain the pandemic is likely to place on the health service, with a second wave of flu cases expected later this autumn.

The rollout of the National Pandemic Flu Service has so far cost £13.5 million, while the DH has spent a further £7 million on public information campaigns.

The DH told Pulse that 425,000 courses of antivirals have been distributed through the National Pandemic Flu Service since it was launched. The DH refused to say how much each course would have cost the taxpayer, citing commercial confidentialty, but with the NHS list price being £16.36 - and antivirals also having been issued through other sources - the total cost is likely to be around £6.95 million.

And information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act suggests PCTs have already spent an estimated £11.6 million on responding to the outbreak – a figure which is expected to rise sharply.

Figures obtained by Pulse from 72 PCTs in England show that trusts have on average incurred additional costs of £76,474 in responding to swine flu, but most said that figures were incomplete or out-of-date and were likely to be an underestimate.

The biggest areas of the spending itemised so far, totalling £5.5 million across 72 trusts, includes personal protective equipment (£593,538), staffing (£554,442), antiviral collection points (£486,306) and medical and surgical equipment (£440,512).

Other areas to incur costs include stationery, storage, pharmacies and increased out-of-hours cover. More than £250,000 has been spent on hiring security guards to protect antiviral collection points.

PCTs in London were among the biggest spenders, with NHS Barking and Dagenham estimating a spend of £339,870, NHS Brent £250,000 and NHS Croydon £234,000.

Other PCTs gave much smaller figures, often because they were incomplete – NHS Swindon, for example, identified an additional spend of just £600 on courier services.

The opportunity cost of diverting staff from other projects to work on a swine flu response was not included in the figures – but anecdotal figures suggest it could be one of the major drains on NHS resources.

NHS West Sussex, which reported an additional spend of £42,700, estimated its opportunity cost to be £91,700. NHS Western Cheshire, reporting a spend so far of £66,147, estimated its opportunity cost to be £266,172.

The NHS is estimated to have spent almost £40 million already in responding to the swine flu outbreak The NHS is estimated to have spent almost £40 million already responding to the swine flu outbreak How swine flu costs add up

Rollout of National Pandemic Flu Service - £13.5 million (Source: Department of Health)

PCT spending - £11.6 million (Source: Estimate based on FOI data from 72 PCTs)

Antivirals - £6.95 million (Source: Pulse estimate based on NHS list price and number of antivirals distributed)

Public information campaigns - £7 million (Source: Department of Health)

Total: £39.05 million

Not included: Staff opportunity cost, PCT spending from August, costs from SHAs and hospital trusts

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