Committee warns of bird flu risk

An influential parliamentary committee has warned that thousands of businesses have failed to investigate how they will keep going in the event of a bird flu pandemic.

The House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology has been investigating the country’s readiness to cope with a pandemic.
Its report warned that, while there are well-developed plans for keeping health services running, elsewhere, there has been a worrying lack of forward planning.

It estimated that a pandemic could last for around four months and infect 25% of the population.

Last year, the Department of Heath warned that sickness absence rates could more than double if a pandemic were to hit the UK (Occupational Health, April 2005).

The committee concluded that, while the police have detailed plans for coping, it would be left up to local education authorities to decide whether schools should close – potentially causing chaos for staff.

Supermarkets have plans to get food to shops, but there might be limits on how much people could buy, increasing the risk of panic buying.
There was also very little evidence that transport companies had planned for a pandemic, despite the fact that higher absence and sickness levels could have a significant impact on the ability of staff to get to work, and on the travel network in general.

In a separate development, health minister Rosie Winterton met with her international counterparts in November to agree on a co-ordinated global response to any pandemic.

For further details of the ministers’ raft of agreed measures, see next month’s issue of Occupational Health

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