The national response to a pandemic flu outbreak could be “severely compromised” because of a freeze on recruiting the doctors who would be responsible for planning it, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned.
About 10% of consultants posts for communicable disease control (CDC) at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) are vacant as a result of a £20m funding cut.
The consultants would play a key part in deciding the national and local responses to an outbreak.
Dr Chris Spencer Jones, chairman of the BMA’s public health committee, said: “The HPA was not generously funded in the first place, and to make funding cuts at a time when we face a possible pandemic flu outbreak is absolutely ridiculous.
“HPA doctors have specialist knowledge on handling outbreaks and we need them to take the lead in managing, planning and advising in the event of a pandemic at ground level. Without them, our response will be severely compromised.”
The House of Lords science and technology committee’s 2005 report into pandemic influenza recommended that funding cuts be reviewed or reversed.
The Department of Health said it had not yet decided budgets for 2006-07.
Worldwide, H5N1 bird flu has infected 204 people and killed 113 since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation.