Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


PANDEMIC INFLUENZA PREPAREDNESS (15127/05)

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP, Minister for Health Services, Department of Health

  Thank you for your Explanatory Memorandum (EM) which Sub-Committee G considered at its meeting on 26 January 2006.

  We accept that the Commission may have a useful role to play in preparing for a possible influenza pandemic. The Commission's outline of the roles that the Commission and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control would have during the defined four levels of EU alert action during a WHO Phase 6 or pandemic period is therefore welcome, but requires careful consideration.

  Your fear that differences between the UK and EU plans relating to planning assumptions and alert levels could lead to misunderstanding at a time of public health crisis is particularly worrying. Clear agreement over respective roles and early planning for effective co-ordination are essential to avoid this in our view.

  Therefore we agree that, if the contingency plan is to run smoothly, it is extremely important to seek clarification of specific points in the EU Plan, such as when the Commission would issue advice, the exact roles, of key European bodies such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and how these activities will complement action by Member States. We also believe it is important to have a clear understanding of how action by the EU and Member States will mesh with the actions of the WHO and national governments outside the EU. We hope that you will press for greater clarity on all these aspects in negotiations as a matter of urgency and would welcome a report on any progress made.

  It would also be useful to know whether you believe other EU countries have sound pandemic contingency plans in place. If more could be done by other Member States what effect might that have on the need for active involvement by the Commission?

  We would also draw your attention to the House of Lords' Science and Technology Committee report Pandemic Influenza which was debated in the House on 20 January 2006. Among other things, this argued that it is essential that proper contingency plans are in place at all levels and that these are carried through to the local level including to health services and food supply chains.

  We have retained the document under scrutiny, pending your reply.

1 February 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 1 February 2006 regarding Explanatory Memorandum 15127/05 on pandemic influenza preparedness and response planning in the European Community.

  As you have requested, we are seeking clarification from the European Commission on the various issues which you have raised in your letter.

  As you may well be aware, on 16 February, the Government published its response to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report on pandemic influenza as Command Paper Cm 6738. Copies have been placed in the Library. The response provides details of UK on-going contingency planning that is taking place at all levels through to the local level, including the NHS and the food supply chain.

  I will write again once my officials have obtained further details on the issues that you have raised.

19 February 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 19 February which was considered by Sub-Committee G considered on 9 March.

  We note that you are seeking clarification from the Commission on the points raised in my letter to you dated 1 February. We hope the Commission will respond promptly and look forward to knowing what they have to say. Given what appears to be a growing threat to Europe from avian influenza, we would be glad to know what timescale is now envisaged for consideration of the Commission's Communication.

  In the meantime, we are grateful to you for drawing attention to the Government's Response to the Science and Technology Report on Pandemic Influenza.

  The Commission Communication remains under scrutiny.

9 March 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP to the Chairman

  Further to my letter of 19 February, my officials have written to officials at the European Commission to clarify a number of issues that you raised in your letter of 1 February. Whilst we await a response from the Commission I would like to take this opportunity to clarify a few of the other issues that you raised in your letter.

  I can confirm that all EU Member States have pandemic preparedness plans in place. The Commission and Member States are continuing to work to improve these national plans as necessary. In March and October 2005, the Commission together with the WHO, organised meetings in Luxembourg and Stockholm with representatives from the 52 countries of the WHO European Region to discuss their national preparedness plans. The meetings helped to determine the stage of pandemic planning in the different European countries, facilitated planning for influenza pandemic preparedness and discussed the main components of such national planning. A further meeting is scheduled for May in Sweden.

  Further work by individual Member States on their national preparedness plans will not significantly affect the need for active involvement by the Commission during a pandemic. As the Committee will be aware, there are EU requirements to share information, and through exercising this function in collaboration with Members States and the European Centre for Disease Control, the Commission believes that it can add value to the national level response.

  I will write again once the Commission has clarified the remaining issues that you raised.

25 April 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 25 April which was considered by Sub-Committee G on 11 May.

  We note that your officials are still waiting for the Commission to respond to the request for clarification prompted by my letter to you dated 1 February.

  It is good to know that all EU Member States do have their own pandemic preparedness plans in place. We note your view that the continuing work on those plans should not significantly affect the need for active involvement by the Commission during a pandemic.

  It is also good to know that the Commission have been working jointly with the WHO to organise meetings for the 52 countries belonging to the WHO region to discuss their national preparedness plans and that another such meeting is due to take place in Sweden in May.

  That is all fairly encouraging, so far as it goes. But it is still not clear to us what is the appropriate role for the Commission in preparing for and helping to deal with pandemics, including the specific role of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and how those activities should dovetail most effectively with those of Member States and the WHO. It is important to get this right and clearly understood and agreed by all concerned without delay. Since avian influenza has already washed up on our shores and broken out in neighbouring Member States, it seems to us high time that this was settled.

  We would therefore be grateful if you would press the Commission for an early response to the clarifications you have sought and report back to us as soon as they have done so. We would also be grateful for a reply to the question in my letter to you dated 9 March about the timescale envisaged for consideration of the Commission's Communication.

  We are continuing to hold this document under scrutiny pending your reply.

12 May 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP to the Chairman

  With reference to your letter 12 May 2006, I am now in a position to provide additional information on the issues raised in your letters of 1 February 2006 and 9 March 2006.

  In broad terms the role of the Commission will be risk management whilst the role of the ECDC will be risk assessment. Nevertheless, despite this division of responsibilities it will be important for the Commission and the ECDC to work closely together during a pandemic, and this is reflected in the Communication which highlights a number of actions on which the two bodies will have to act together. As a consequence, there is a degree of flexibility inherent in some aspects of the roles of the two bodies. Hence, the ECDC also undertakes some risk management work.

  The appropriate role of the Commission in preparing for and helping to deal with a pandemic is defined by Article 152 of the Treaty establishing the European Community. This role is to support and complement the action of the Member States, and it can also propose measures to encourage and promote co-ordination and co-operation. The mission of the ECDC under Regulation (EC)851/2004 is to identify, assess and communicate current and emerging threats to human health from communicable diseases. All of the actions that are assigned to the Commission and the ECDC in the Communication can be considered to fall within their respective fields of competence.

  The Communication indicates that the Commission may issue advice during phases 3, 5 and 6 of a pandemic although the exact times at which communications may be issued will depend upon the circumstances prevailing at the time. The Commission has established a network of EU Communication Officers which has also been meeting with the ECDC. This network has been sharing experience and best practice with the aim of achieving as much consistency in communications on avian and pandemic influenza as possible.

  The Communication will complement action by Member States (MSs) in a number of ways, for example by enhancing co-ordination and co-operation between MSs; helping to identify gaps in MSs national level plans; improving communication between the MSs; working to ensure that MSs communications are consistent to the greatest possible extent; and ensuring that MSs have all of the information they need.

  Whilst the Communication itself makes little reference to how the actions it contains will mesh with the work of the WHO, numerous links have been established between the Commission, the ECDC and the WHO at the operational level. We are confident that these links will be effective in ensuring that actions undertaken by the EU during a pandemic will integrate effectively with those of the WHO.

  No timescale is envisaged for further consideration of the Communication, since the Commission does not intend to issue a revised version. However, work will continue at operational level on the implementation of the Communication.

20 July 2006



 
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