Newcastle North MP, Catherine McKinnell, has expressed her concerns today about the Government’s level of preparedness for winter flu.
“Last week saw almost a trebling of people going to their GP with flu symptoms, whilst the number of patients in hospital and in intensive care has risen and vaccination rates are down on previous years.
“This is potentially very worrying as this year’s strain of the winter flu virus is more virulent than usual and some of the groups most at risk, including pregnant women, are not those who have been vulnerable before to winter flu.
“I am very concerned that the Health Secretary has been silent on this critical issue – making no public statement on flu preparedness since he’s been in office. Why he is spending all his time focussed on dismantling the very NHS organisations that do most to prevent, assess and manage the spread of flu – such as the Health Protection Agency, the Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts? The only decision he appears to have taken on this matter was to axe the regular Autumn advertising campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated and make them aware of the risks.
“I will be keeping a very close eye on the situation in Newcastle as it develops over the Christmas and New Year period, and would strongly urge all of my constituents who are eligible to receive a flu vaccine to take up this offer as soon as they are able to do so.”
The World Health Organisation target level of immunisation is 75%. Health Protection Agency figures confirmed last week that 67% of the over 65s have received the flu jab. However, the level is only 42% for the groups most at risk this year – the under 65s who have conditions which weaken the lungs or immune system, and women who are pregnant.