On the 3rd of September, the Department of Health issued new planning assumptions for swine ‘flu, based on analysis and modelling of the most up to date data from the UK and abroad. These supersede the previous assumptions (published on the 16th of July) and cover the period through to May 2010. Whilst infection rates have fallen sharply over the summer holidays, the guidance warns that we could now be facing another wave of infection, which could peak as early as mid October.
Although the models are still predicting that, as a “Reasonable worst case”, roughly 30% of the population may become ill at some stage during the pandemic there are two items of good news. It is now estimated that:
- Only 1% of those who become ill will require hospitalistion (the previous estimate was 2%); and
- The fatality rate will be no more than 0.1% of those who become ill (the previous estimate was 0.1-0.35% ).
As before, the quoted “Peak Absence Rate” of 12% only takes account of people who are ill themselves or looking after sick children. The figure does not take account of: normal absence (leave and sickness), people unable to get to work because of disruption to transport networks and people staying off work through fear. Most importantly, it does not include the impact of schools closing (either through lack of staff or as a positive public health measure). It is estimated that 16% of the UK workforce are the main carer for one or more children under 16 years of age and this figure varies between sectors reaching 30% in health and social care. Moreover, school closures could persist for some time either side of a pandemic peak.
Despite the welcome news on hospitalisation and fatality rates, swine ‘flu remains a serious threat to businesses as we could shortly be facing a period of weeks where upwards of 30% of the workforce are unavailable. Bear in mind also that absences may not be distributed evenly across the organisation. Now is the time to identify any staffing bottlenecks in your company and ensure that adequate numbers of staff are trained to carry out all critical activities.
Follow the link for more information on ‘flu pandemic planning.