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Flu summit was an important way of sharing best practice

I was disappointed to read the selective and potentially misleading coverage of the RCGP Pandemic Flu Summit

(Call for ‘sleeping’ flu pandemic DES)

This important meeting was convened to share experiences and learn lessons from the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic.

All sectors of the NHS had to respond to the huge burden of acute flu illness and the H1N1 vaccination programme, on top of the delivery of the annual seasonal flu vaccination campaign, while maintaining essential services.

One after another, speakers confirmed that throughout the UK, in spite of considerable obstacles, the service had for the most part, responded very well to these challenges, and in some situations, heroically – in the best traditions of the NHS.

My own presentation attempted to recognise this achievement, with a particular focus on:

• Maintaining the momentum for all unvaccinated clinical at-risk groups over the summer to guard against a major recurrence.

• Continuing to be diligent in offering H1N1 vaccine to pregnant women, who are particularly vulnerable to H1N1 infection and many of whom still express vaccine safety concerns.

• Extending good practice.

As well as conspicuous successes, there were also inconsistencies and problem areas. We must assimilate what we learned from this programme as soon as possible, to better our preparedness for future pandemics.

I also suggested that:

• We should consider the possibility of prenegotiated ‘sleeping contracts’ for GP engagement to avoid delays and uncertainty in future pandemics.

• Vaccinations to protect against infections and other diseases – such as HPV and cervical cancer – are likely to become increasingly important and we should now consider vaccinations akin to ‘chronic medications’.

• That should be reflected in robust, systematic electronic mechanisms for recording immunisations throughout the NHS.

Copies of all the speakers’ presentations, including mine, can be found on the RCGP website by searching for ‘pandemic presentations’.

From Professor Lewis Ritchie
GP in Peterhead and member of the JCVI influenza sub-group