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Training to keep services going...
Training to keep services going

By Nick Golding

Officers could be moved from their regular jobs to ensure essential services are maintained in the event of a flu pandemic.

Emergency planners are working with social services and other departments to ensure the elderly and other vulnerable people receive care in the event of a outbreak resulting in a 30% staff absence rate.

Deskbound officers could return to the frontline, recently retired employees encouraged to return to work and training given to enable non-specialist staff to play support roles such as delivering meals on wheels.

David Kerry, chairman of the Emergency Planning Society, said: 'Throughout the care sector and the healthcare sector we'll look at what staff we have and how councils use their skills.'

He said relevant people could be redeployed.

Councils are updating lists of agency social care staff to ensure skilled employees can be brought in at the last minute.

Environmental health is another area of concern with councils desperate to ensure public health advice is given out and standards maintained at the time when the potential risks are greatest.

The government has attempted to force the pace of preparation by announcing a national pandemic preparation exercise in February for which councils and other local, regional and national bodies will be expected to finalise plans.

Ministers want local strategies prepared by November and training and 'table top exercises' to be complete by January.

Local partners, working through resilience forums, are expected to create detailed plans to maintain services,

devise communications strategies to spread hygiene information and investigate how to store and dispose of large numbers of bodies.

In a letter to local partners, Liz McIntosh, of the Cabinet Office's civil contingencies secretariat, promised further guidance will be given on healthcare, access to drugs, face masks and triggers for the closure of schools.

Although the H5N1 avian flu strain remains primarily a disease of birds, she said 'the possibility remains that it, or some new, or mutated virus, could develop an ability to spread rapidly between humans.'

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