General medical and dental practices should move urgently to put in place full contingency plans for pandemic flu if not already developed.
It is yet uncertain whether the current swine flu outbreak will develop into a major pandemic but it should serve as an urgent reminder that practices must have specific contingency plans for such an event. The Royal College of General Practitioners and the General Practitioners Committee of the BMA have produced comprehensive guidance to help medical practices develop such plans. Other guidance for both medical and dental practices is available from the Department of Health (see Links below).
In September 2008 the journal Management in Practice published the results of a survey on risk management in which it found that 38 per cent of practice managers reported having no specific contingency plans in place in the event of flu pandemic. It may be that some of these practices have subsequently formulated such plans but the current crisis should serve as a wake-up call.
The Royal College of General Practitioners has stated that all GP practices should have service continuity plans for reasons of clinical governance and business planning. Emergency planning is an integral part of this and with rising concern over the potential threat from both swine and avian flu no practice can afford to ignore this requirement.
The RCGP/BMA guidance is meant to be practical and shows how pandemic planning should be done. There are action points and checklists which can be downloaded to use in preparing for the difficult challenges practices will face in a major pandemic. Links are also given to other key information sources.
In a foreword to the document its authors state:
"What is important is that no GP practice is left isolated and that we think about the potential problems in advance, training up as necessary and putting systems in place so that when a pandemic arrives we are as ready as we can be.
"It will not be easy. There will be things such as prioritisation of services at the peak of the pandemic, which no one will like. However, by thinking things out now, before the pandemic, we can try to ensure that we limit the extent of sickness and death from flu, and will be able to care for non-flu patients as well."
ACTION: MDDUS urges all general medical and dental practices without specific flu pandemic contingency plans to urgently consult relevant guidance documents and put policies in place.