The Public Health Agency (PHA), Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) hosted a further briefing today to outline the current position in respect of flu and seasonal winter pressures.
The PHA Flu Bulletin for the period 8 -14 January 2011, shows that the main markers of the level of flu here – new cases and GP consultation rates – have all decreased significantly in the past week. There were only 85 new laboratory confirmed cases of swine flu in Northern Ireland last week compared to 219 in the first week of January 2011.
Dr Carolyn Harper, Director of Public Health for Northern Ireland, said: “It is reassuring that the number of new flu cases per week has more than halved. If the current trend continues, the peak of this year’s flu season has passed.
“As of noon on Wednesday 19 January 2011, 21 people had died from H1N1 flu during the current flu season. Of these, 18 had underlying medical conditions that predispose them to developing serious complications of flu, 2 did not and details for the remaining death have not been confirmed.”
Dr Harper continued: “I would like to offer my sincere condolences to those who have been bereaved. Any death is a very deep personal loss for the families involved.
“Vaccination still remains the most effective way to protect those who are most at risk from flu and its complications. While many people in at risk groups have already taken up their offer of vaccine, some still have not. But it is not too late to get protected and you should see your GP about being vaccinated as soon as possible. Supplies of safe and effective vaccine against swine flu are available for at risk groups.”
At today’s briefing, Mr John Compton, Chief Executive, Health and Social Care Board, once again outlined the position with regard to the impact of flu and seasonal winter pressures on the health and social care services.
Mr Compton, said: “The service continues to be busy with flu and seasonal winter pressures, however these pressures are being managed effectively across Northern Ireland and normal escalation arrangements are in place to cope with any expected demands at this time.”
He continued: “The position, as of Wednesday, 19 January 2011, is that 18 out of 76 adult critical care patients and 1 out of 8 paediatric critical care patients are being treated for flu. This is an improvement on the position last week, and as a result we have been able to revert to the normal local arrangements for managing critical care capacity.
“The measures agreed between the Board and Trusts to provide for the expansion of critical care capacity have been successful in enabling Trusts to ensure that anyone needing critical care has been able to have it. This did, however, mean that a number of elective inpatient cases needed to be deferred. At this time of year, the service would normally undertake around 1,100 planned inpatient procedures in a week. During the last week it has been necessary to defer 138 elective inpatient cases across Northern Ireland. Decisions about the deferral of individual cases have been taken by clinicians. We very much regret the impact on each and every one of these patients and Trusts are working to reschedule these patients as soon as possible.
“Of all patients being treated in hospital in Northern Ireland today, approximately 1.66 per cent have been confirmed with swine flu or are suspected as having it. This is not unusual at this time of year when flu is most prevalent.”
The Board is continuing to work closely with Trusts and primary care colleagues to ensure that services are maintained for the community. Accident and Emergency departments, while busy, continue to be fully operational, and although primary care services continue to report they are busy, they are coping well.
Mr Compton acknowledged that some hospitals in the Belfast area, particularly the Mater, had witnessed especially busy periods during the past week, and staff there were to be commended for maintaining services in the face of these difficulties. He said the Mater had worked in close association with other partner hospitals in the system to successfully manage the pressure that it faced, and that this demonstrated how all the organisations were effectively networked to minimise disruption to patients and the community.
Speaking at today’s briefing Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “I welcome the latest figures which have been published today and I am encouraged to see that flu and flu-like illness is decreasing in Northern Ireland. This is very much as expected at this stage in a flu season and we continue to closely watch the situation. Sadly we have seen further deaths in the past week and I would like to express my sincere condolences to the families for their loss.
“Our experience this year highlights the importance of the flu vaccination programme and the need for those in at risk groups to take up the offer of vaccination at the earliest opportunity.
“I would particularly like to express my appreciation to all health and social care staff throughout Northern Ireland who continue to work tirelessly to care for all patients in our hospitals, GP surgeries and in the community throughout what has been a very challenging winter.”
For further information and advice on flu visit the fluaware pages at www.publichealth.hscni.net