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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Concern over pandemic flu plans
Dead chickens on a farm in North Tuddenham, Norfolk
The UK has already culled thousands of chickens
Doctors have expressed concerns about the government's plans for a flu pandemic.

In a poll of 1,061 GPs and hospital doctors for Hospital Doctor magazine, more than a third said the government was badly prepared.

Over half said they had not received any information although the government insisted GPs should have advice packs.

The Tories warned the UK may not be ready, but the government said plans were evolving.

If there was a pandemic in several years' time we may not be ready
Andrew Lansley
Shadow Health Secretary

There are fears that a mutation in a bird flu virus could trigger a flu pandemic across the world.

It is estimated between 50,000 and 700,000 people could die in the UK if such an event occurred.

In the poll, carried out in conjunction with Doctor magazine ahead of a conference on pandemic preparedness, doctors said there needed to be better communication and investment in vaccine research.

Speaking at the conference in London, Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley raised concerns about the availability of critical care beds, face masks and plans for ordering a vaccine.

He added: "If there was a pandemic in several years' time we may not be ready."

Weary

Professor John Oxford, a virologist at Queen Mary's School of Medicine in London, said the UK Government was among the best prepared.

But he admitted there was a danger of people becoming weary about repeated warnings about the risk of a flu pandemic.

"It is difficult stuff to plan for. I do feel myself this is a huge threat, but I am not sure everyone is convinced."

Professor Lindsey Davies, a flu expert from the Department of Health, said it was "challenging to fight a foe" that had not been encountered yet.

But she said plans were being updated continuously.

And she added: "We have an opportunity to really get ahead of this.

"If we think carefully and act sensibly, we may be able to do things to mitigate the impact."

She admitted that it was not yet known if antivirals, such as Tamiflu, would be effective and it would be unlikely that a vaccine would be available for the first wave of pandemic flu in the UK due to the time it took to manufacture the jab after identifying the flu strain.

Although the 14.6m courses of Tamiflu ordered by the government have now been stockpiled.

She said public health measures such as good hygiene and the use of masks among health workers would provide a good defence.

But she said it was "highly, highly unlikely" that there would be mandatory restrictions on travel in the event of an outbreak, although people may be advised to avoid large crowds and only take essential journeys.


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