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Avian Influenza

Mr. Hands: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what measures she is taking to prepare for a potential outbreak of avian influenza in the UK. [15764]

Caroline Flint: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised that there is a continuing and potentially growing threat that a human influenza pandemic could emerge from the avian influenza (bird flu) currently circulating in South East Asia. The WHO has recognised the United Kingdom as one of the countries with the most developed preparedness plans. We published the UK influenza pandemic contingency plan in March 2005. The plan is currently being revised in light of comments received and an updated version will be published soon. The national health service is putting in place plans to cope with a pandemic as part of general emergency preparedness planning. We have published operational guidance to help NHS planners in this task.

When a pandemic starts, antiviral drugs will be the first line medical intervention. We have purchased 14.6 million courses, enough to treat the 25 per cent, of the UK population anticipated to be affected in a pandemic. The first of these deliveries was received in August and the stockpile will be complete by December 2006. Guidelines on local planning for the distribution of these drugs were published in mid-September 2005.

A specific vaccine for pandemic flu will not start to be available until at least four to six months after the strain causing the pandemic has been identified. However, we are working closely with other countries, the WHO, the European Commission and manufacturers to ensure that a vaccine can be developed as quickly as possible once a pandemic flu strain emerges and to put arrangements in place to ensure production of vaccine for the UK population.

Mr. Hands: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what discussions she has had with the World Health Organisation regarding avian influenza. [15766]

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Caroline Flint: As a member state of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Kingdom is a full and active participant in the work taken forward by the WHO on seasonal, pandemic and avian influenza. The UK cooperates not only on a global basis with the central coordination of the WHO, but also on a regional basis through WHO Euro.

The UK strongly encourages the development and implementation of national contingency plans in line with advice from the WHO and works closely with them, as well as others such as the European Union (EU), to achieve this. UK preparedness plans have been informed by the material available from the WHO. During our presidency of the EU, the UK will be organising a joint WHO/EU presidency meeting on pandemic influenza preparedness in October.

The Department is also working closely with the WHO and other countries to share information and plans for response. The UK was recently visited by representatives of WHO and the EU to discuss national contingency plans and we were commended on our level of preparedness.

Mr. Hands: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what discussions she has had with her counterparts in (a) Laos, (b) the People's Republic of China, (c) Indonesia, (d) Vietnam, (e) Cambodia and (f) Thailand on avian influenza. [15841]

Caroline Flint: The United Kingdom supports efforts to increase South East Asia's avian influenza pandemic preparedness through the coordination of international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the World Animal Health Organisation. These agencies, notably the WHO and FAO, have the lead role in the co-ordinating the international response and developing coherent plans to address the key issues in the region. The Department therefore works closely with the WHO, and through them other countries, to share information and plans for pandemic flu preparedness.

Contact between the UK Government and these countries would generally be coordinated through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the Department for International Development. Officials based in these countries are regularly in touch with WHO representatives and information is passed on to officials in the Department.

Mr. Lansley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what applications for financial support for research into the development of vaccines against the H5NI virus her Department has received; when they were received; what response her Department has made; and if she will make a statement. [17365]

Caroline Flint: We have received two applications for research to develop vaccines against the H5 influenza virus, both from consortia of research workers coordinated by Professor Karl Nicholson from Leicester university.

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It would be inappropriate to commit such a large amount of public money unless we could be sure the research was of the highest quality and met the needs of the United Kingdom. We commissioned a group of independent experts to help develop a research strategy and this met in June this year. Members of the consortium who made the original bid have been involved in subsequent discussions and hence were aware of the action we have taken.

We are committed to improving research in this area and are working closely with key stakeholders such as the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs to develop a joined-up research strategy for the UK and to align this with research strategies in Europe and in other countries. The Department plans to make a call for proposals for specific research on pandemic flu vaccines in the near future. In addition, the MRC has arranged a meeting in early December to discuss a UK-wide strategy for fundamental research related to pandemic flu.

Blood Donation

Sarah Teather: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will allocate further resources to encourage people in London to give blood. [15828]

Caroline Flint: The National Health Service Blood and Transplant Authority (NHSBT)l reports good stocks, which are sufficient to meet current demand. Prior to the establishment of NHSBT, the National Blood Service continually worked to maintain blood stocks through a range of marketing and communication techniques. NHSBT will continue to do so. No additional resources are required to recruit blood donors in London at present.

1 From 1 October, the National Blood Service and UK Transplant were merged to form the new organisation NHSBT.

The table shows red cell stocks as at 3 October 2005.
Total red cell stocks
Number of validated units52,240
Equivalent number of days supply8.20

In addition to NHSBT stocks, each hospital blood bank will keep an appropriate stock of blood.


Sir John Stanley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what the Chief Medical Officer's estimate is of the number of deaths in the UK likely to arise from an influenza pandemic; [17111]

(2) what number of deaths is assumed in the Government's contingency plan for pandemic influenza. [17112]

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Caroline Flint: The United Kingdom influenza pandemic contingency plan, published in March 2005, states that 50,000 people or more will die from pandemic influenza. We based this figure upon evidence from seasonal flu and previous pandemics and it has been agreed by the Chief Medical Officer.

Estimates of the number of people who could be affected are difficult to predict, as it depends on the viral strain of the pandemic. Current planning assumptions, based on advice from the World Health Organization, suggest that a pandemic could affect a quarter of the UK population, and estimates of the number of deaths range from around 50,000 upwards. However, the plan recognises that the figures could be significantly higher.


Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many deaths have been associated with mifepristone (Mifeprex) in England and Wales in each of the last five years for which figures are available. [16243]

Jane Kennedy: None.

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