Avian Flu - NHS issues updated advice amidst rising concern

World Health Organisation and NHS officials have reviewed the current guidance and produced a simplified guide to the issues and the potential effects.

Many Health experts are of the opinion that we are overdue by some margin another Pandemic and are concerned by the implications of increased international transmission from the huge difference in world travel since the last major incident that is estimated to have killed over 25 million people.

Governments have developed plans to try and address the impact of a Pandemic, but the effect on Society would be very serious indeed with some estimates stating that between 25 & 50% of the countries workforce could be affected. Whilst the Symptoms for most would be that of bad flu, for vulnerable groups the risk to life is serious.

To gauge the potential impact one only has to review the effect of the recent SARS outbreak, which caused major disruption in the Far East and Canada. The impact of an Avian Flu Pandemic would be many times greater, a structured response to the threat has been developed which prioritises treatment and Vaccine provision to key groups.

In addition, a number of different policies have also been suggested including 'Social Isolation', where the advice is to minimise all interaction with others, which has very significant consequences for Business and Organisations of all types.

Initially a Vaccine would not be available as it is impossible to produce until the variant strain of the Virus is known. Governments have already made arrangements for the supply of appropriate Vaccine and some have even invested in ‘Best Guess’ treatments to sustain key infrastructures in the early stages of the outbreak. Once the Vaccine had been produced supplies would initially be used to protect key workers in the Health Service and Emergency Services and then rolled out to the vulnerable groups, such as Children and the Elderly. As Vaccine supplies grew the intention would be to inoculate the entire population. Some estimates suggest that the outbreak would last between 3 and 6 months.

Continuity Forum Comment

One of the key issues as we learnt with SARS is the reaction of people, parents will need to tend Children and other members of the Family and generally be very concerned over a very genuine Health Risk. In light of this concern, we suggest it is wise to at least consider what your organisation could do to cope. People will be concerned both for themselves and their families and a sensitive approach to the Human issues is needed.

If an Organisation forces an employee to choose between coming into work or tending their child during a major Pandemic the choice will be an easy one. Enforcement could also raise the spectre of Legal action on a widespread basis, particularly for larger employees, if the current suggested recommendations to minimise travel and social interaction are actually made by Governments. For some sectors the impact would likely be dramatic and immediate as the impact of Social Isolation hits, with Retail, Travel and Tourism all badly affected very quickly, other sectors would suffer a knock on effect which is likely to vary considerably depending on the virulence of the outbreak and its duration.

Should this feared Pandemic arise, Organisations should have developed some measure response to the issue of Staff Absence and the other potential effects caused by the outbreak. One potentially positive aspect is that although communities will be seriously affected, the effects will be widespread and we believe that there will be a huge amount understanding and tolerance to the situation, PROVIDED that confidence in core operations is maintained. This means that it is vital that a clear communications strategy be adopted, providing frequent updates on important issues and demonstrating the professional management of the organisation and its commitment to work through any problems that affect Stakeholders and Customers.

The Forum would strongly recommend that BCM BIA’s, rehearsals and exercises include the impact of a Pandemic outbreak to further examine the effects on your organisation and to assist in developing various responses and options.

Use the resoures tab to locate pandemic planning resources or check out the library.