A flu pandemic would cripple the NHS because the Government has no contingency staffing plans, a leading doctor has warned.
"I think there will be a crisis which could become one of these seminal events. There will be a lot of people who will not get on ventilators and there would be a massive scandal," said Dr Michael Goodman, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association consultants' committee.
The comments reflect a belief in the health service that a major staffing crisis was only narrowly averted during the recent flu outbreak, which did not even reach epidemic levels.
Goodman, also a hospital consultant, characterised the current system as "a hope-for-the-best, Dunkirk spirit approach".
HR directors believe the DoH policy of leaving responsibility for contingency plans with individual trusts is inadequate.
James Farrelly, personnel manager at West Lothian Healthcare NHS Trust, said existing recruitment problems made it impossible for hospitals to plan for a pandemic.
"Any type of situation like this would have to be managed on a firefighting basis," he said. "It is a situation that has to be managed as it happens."
Goodman said the Government's plan contained just four paragraphs about hospital care, two of them relating to securing drugs and gaining mortuary space.
One strategy, he said, could be to establish a reserve of retired medical staff although this would require a system to allow them to update their skills.
A DoH spokeswoman said the Government had launched the "largest ever" flu immunisation programme last October.
By Helen Rowe