Employers must prepare for flu calamity

Category Business Continuity Management Briefing BCM - BCM & Risk Management - H5N1 - Pandemic - General

UK bosses and managers need to do more to prepare for an influenza pandemic

Fewer than a quarter of companies have made adequate plans for coping with a flu pandemic, according to research which suggests that an outbreak would have a devastating impact on business.

A major survey of proprietors, executives and senior managers has revealed that 30 per cent of businesses have no strategy at all, while 14 per cent have only rudimentary continuity plans that need improvement. Another 34 per cent of executives are unaware of how their companies intend to deal with the threat of pandemic flu, and only 22 per cent are comfortable that they are properly prepared.

Even among those businesses that have drawn up a continuity plan, very few have bought a stockpile of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, the main defence against the flu virus, for treating their staff. Only 18 per cent of those companies with a pandemic plan have bought or intend to buy the drug. Among FTSE-100 companies, seven have ordered enough Tamiflu to cover every employee, and another four have placed smaller orders. Ministers urged to consider flu jabs for all Insurer rises to challenge Although the Government has bought 15.6 million courses of Tamiflu, this will be enough for only 25 per cent of the population, and its scientific advisers have recommended that double or even triple this quantity is needed. Much of the stockpile is expected to be reserved for essential workers, such as emergency services and utilities staff.

The official pandemic plan also makes no provision for ensuring that businesses can continue to operate, and the Government has strongly recommended that companies make their own preparations. It has not, however, issued advice on what these should involve. The new research, conducted by YouGov for Roche, the pharmaceutical company that makes Tamiflu, suggests that most businesses have yet to take the threat seriously. Nottingham University Business School has calculated that a pandemic could cost British business £95 billion. Last year, a study for the Harvard Business Review concluded: “Should a pandemic emerge, it would become the single biggest threat to business continuity, and could remain so for up to 18 months.

Russell Price, chairman of the Continuity Forum, a business think-tank, who peer-reviewed the research, said that by failing to invest in sensible measures many businesses were exposing themselves to difficulties that could prevent them from operating effectively, or close them down. Companies needed to plan for absenteeism that the Cabinet Office had calculated could reach 25 per cent, Mr Price said. Company stocks of Tamiflu would also reassure staff. But the prescription-only drug would have to be distributed by company doctors or third-party medical services.  Businesses and public sector organisations are generally still overlooking fundamental points, Price said. It is far better to address the issues now, rather than hope to cope later.

Mark Henderson, Science Editor The Times