Northern Ireland

Swine flu response 'effective'

Influenza Virus

The NI Health Minister has welcomed the recommendations of an independent review into the swine flu pandemic.

The UK spent £1.2bn preparing for and responding to the virus, which Dame Deirdre Hine's report described as "proportionate and effective".

Inflexible contracts signed by the government meant that the UK was left with vaccines it did not need.

The report said that the government and devolved administrations must avoid complacency.

Michael McGimpsey said he wants to see how the recommendations can been built into future pandemic planning.

"I welcome the independent review which has found that our preparations were soundly based in terms of value for money, and reflect the low cost of vaccination in relation to the value of lives saved.

"We have to remember that, whilst this pandemic was not as virulent as we first feared, for many it caused serious illness and we should not forget those that lost their lives."

There were 457 reported and confirmed swine flu-related deaths across the UK between the outbreak in April last year and March this year.

Eighteen people died as a result of swine flu in Northern Ireland and two others passed away while on holiday abroad.

Dame Deirdre Hine also made a number of recommendations in the report to inform future planning.

"The UK was fortunate that the pandemic was, in general, mild and self-limiting.

"However, another pandemic is no less likely just because we have experienced this one, and could be much more severe," she added.

"The government and devolved administrations must avoid complacency and build on the strengths of their response while learning from the lessons I have identified."

Each of the devolved administrations developed its own pandemic preparedness plan, consistent with the UK-wide National Framework, to reflect its own particular circumstances.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is the lead department for pandemic preparedness and response.

But major organisational changes in Northern Ireland health care provisions came into place on 1 April 2009, just weeks before the outbreak of the pandemic.

Mr McGimpsey said the coordinated response was effective and allowed the UK to move together at key points.

"It is encouraging that the report commends the approach taken by the four Health Ministers to the swine flu threat.

"Finally I wish to echo Dame Deirdre sentiments and pay tribute to those in our Health Service and public health staff who led the response to this pandemic and protected our public."

Each of the devolved administrations developed its own pandemic preparedness plan, consistent with the UK-wide national framework, to reflect its own particular circumstances.

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