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Preparing for the pandemic

Winter is on the way, and as we prepare for the seasonal flu vaccination programme the topic of pandemic flu appears again. But are we getting too casual about bird flu? In this week's blog, Sheila Beaumont asks how prepared you are. Remember, it's not a question of if, it's a question of when it will arrive

I've just come back from the cinema after seeing "Atonement" and what struck me most in the film were the shots of St Thomas' Hospital with all the wounded soldiers from the Dunkirk evacuation. The hospital was full to bursting with beds crowded together, corridors full of the sick and dying and the nursing staff stretched to breaking point. There must have been an enormous call for dressings, bandages, disinfectants, swabs, etc etc, and I wondered how prepared they were and had they stockpiled supplies in advance.

These thoughts ran through my mind because last night I was at a meeting of our local pharmacists about "Business Continuity Planning", particularly with respect to pandemic flu.

We were reminded that it is not a case of if but when, and that we need to start planning for it now. For community pharmacists this means thinking not only about stocks of paracetamol cold remedies and throat sweets for flu victims, but more importantly how services will be maintained for our patients with long-term conditions when staff numbers and drug deliveries are drastically reduced.

Apparently a great deal was learnt from the various flood disasters last summer and the "Winter Willow" exercise earlier in the year, and these lessons will all feed into national and local planning

It does sometimes feel as if all the talk about pandemic flu is a bit like "crying wolf" - the topic surfaces annually with the start of the seasonal flu vaccination programmes and we may be just a little bit blasé about it all. However, perhaps we should be thinking about what might be involved and what we as healthcare professionals might need to do. What do you think? What is the first thing you will do?