On the 16th of July, 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. The news is generally positive: in particular it is now estimated that the fatality rate will be somewhere in the region of 0.1-0.35% of those who become ill whereas previous planning assumptions had considered case-fatality rates of up to 2.5%. However, the fact remains that the models are still predicting that roughly 30% of the population will become ill at some stage during the pandemic.
Although the document gives much useful guidance it is important to sound a note of caution: 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 may persist for some time either side of the pandemic peak.
Despite the welcome news on fatality rates, swine ‘flu remains a serious threat to businesses as we could 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 departments. Now is the time to identify any staffing bottlenecks in your organisation and ensure that adequate numbers of staff are trained to carry out all critical activities.