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Pandemic Flu update for carers : 30th July 2009

30 July 2009
Carers UK is receiving increasing numbers of calls from carers about pandemic flu. This statement outlines what action we are taking to press the government and what the current advice is for carers.

Carers UK is receiving increasing numbers of calls from carers about pandemic flu. They are concerned about several things:

Whether they are a priority for vaccinations

How the distribution of anti-viral medication will work

Contingency planning around health and social care.

Carers UK has written to the Secretary of State Andy Burnham MP and passed on these three key concerns. In the letter we ask the Minister "if carers could be made a priority for the flu vaccine as they have been with seasonable flu." We remind the Minister that "the arguments have already been accepted by the Department for seasonal flu where carers are recognised as a priority. Carers are seen as important as the health and social care workforce and the same principle needs to apply in this instance."

We will update our members once we have a reply from the Minister. In the meantime the following information is to help answer some of the questions carers have.

Are carers a priority for vaccinations?

There is a list of high risk groups who will receive vaccinations first. These are people considered to be at highest risk of becoming seriously ill through the flu - those with certain types of medical conditions for example neurological conditions like MS and Parkinsons, those over 65 years or under 5 years and pregnant women. (Link to list of at risk groups)

Carers do not appear in the high risk groups and they are currently not a priority after these groups. Carers UK has written to the Secretary of State urging action which will make carers a priority. No plans have been published yet about how the vaccination programme would work, but they may be looking at carers' registers in GPs surgeries as one way of getting in touch with carers.

How will the distribution of anti-viral medication (Tamiflu) work?

In England this is now available directly, without prescription, through the National Pandemic Flu Service.

Website : www.direct.gov.uk/Pandemicflu

Tel: 0800 1 513 100.

The National Pandemic Flu service gives advice about flu. If someone needs anti-viral drugs then they have to get a flu friend to go to collect them. Some carers have raised concerns that carers in rural areas may not be able to do this, particularly if they have to travel far to a collection point. Others have raised concerns that people living alone or who are isolated may not have flu friends. The Department of Health, in this instance, is investigating whether local voluntary organisations are willing and able to act as flu friends.

Contingency planning – what is the advice

The only official advice for carers on contingency planning is on NHS Choices [website link]

It advises that in the event of a significant proportion of the population contracting the H1N1 virus, carers should be preparing for:

getting it themselves or being vaccinated against it

the person they care for getting vaccinated

needing emergency replacement care if they get the virus and are unable to care for a period of time

normal care breaking down because the people providing the care either have the virus or are caring for someone with the virus.

It suggests that carers wanting to look at planning for emergencies, should look to family and friends first, but that they could ask for a carer's assessment to look at planning for an emergency. Although this is, on the face of it, good advice, there are often waiting times for carer's assessments and local authorities are likely to have limited capacity to respond to this advice. Planning for emergencies has improved since Carers UK's Back Me Up campaign in 2005 but it is still not consistent.

What the advice does not adequately describe is the fact that, faced with an emergency, a family should be contacting the duty social worker to arrange back-up care or, if they have an emergency plan, to activate that plan.

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