The government has outlined new countermeasures to help employers and healthcare workers cope in the event of a flu pandemic.
The measures include doubling the stock of antivirals to cover at least half of the population, buying 14.7 million courses of antibiotics to cover at risk groups and purchasing 350 million surgical masks and 34 million respirators for NHS and social care staff on the frontline.
The Department of Health guidance also outlines the need to create a pool of reserve workers, often from employees who have recently retired to assess how staff might be redeployed if normal working was suspended the scope for flexible and remote working and the need for protocols for treatment of staff who are absent from work.
It also suggested that employers would have to increase the number of staff with key skills needed during the pandemic, especially those who could prescribe or advise on respiratory medicine.
Employers would also need to be aware that absence during, and even after, a pandemic often comes in waves, and that there would often be a recovery period once the outbreak had passed.
Health secretary Alan Johnson said: “We know a pandemic would have significant social and economic impact, as well as a serious effect on the health of the population. A thorough and integrated response is, therefore, critical to lessening its overall effect.”
A new National Flu Pandemic Framework has also been established to co-ordinate the responses of government departments, regional assemblies and all public and private bodies.