Health Secretary Andy Burnham’s prediction that 100,000 people a day could catch swine flu comes as a shock.
While the spread of the disease has appeared rapid, with more than 100 cases routinely emerging in the West Midlands daily, his comments suggest that the pandemic has barely begun. But it’s worth noting that this is how flu viruses frequently behave. Large numbers of people can become infected very quickly.
A young girl became the first swine flu fatality in England when she died at Birmingham Children’s Hospital last week.
This death is tragic, but it is important to avoid drawing the wrong conclusions.
Given the number of cases in the West Midlands, the fact that there has been only one death suggests that the danger level is low.
Whether that will continue to be the case remains to be seen. The fear is that swine flu could return in the autumn, perhaps in a more virulent form.
This is why the Government is stocking up on vaccination doses. But it is also why a council scrutiny committee is looking into the response so far, to see if improvements can be made. The real test of our health services will come if Mr Burnham’s projected figures turn out to be correct. While they may have done sterling work so far, they have not yet been tested.
An inquiry lead by Coun Deidre Alden hopes to uncover lessons from the response so far, to ensure agencies are ready to act if they need to, later in the year.
This work is essential and the scrutiny committee’s role must be one of a critical friend – not criticising for he sake of it but pointing out changes that could be made if they will improve the service on offer.