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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Even the new target is well short of the WHO recommendation"
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Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 00:49 GMT 01:49 UK
Henry Cooper launches flu offensive
Henry Cooper in action
Sir Henry is the face of the campaign
Former heavyweight boxing champion Sir Henry Cooper is the star of a campaign telling pensioners to have a flu vaccination.

And the campaign marks the first time that the NHS Direct telephone helpline will be thrown open to the entire country.

The Department of Health-funded adverts, to run on daytime television and in the national press, feature the sporting legend urging viewers to visit their doctors for innoculations.

The slogan he delivers is: "Don't get knocked out by flu. Get your jab in first."

There will be a two-week "reminder" campaign in late November.

The Department of Health said that delays in manufacturing a new flu vaccine will not hamper the immunisation campaign.

One pharmaceutical company has reported that problems in developing a particular strain of the virus would cause delays in getting the new jab to GPs.

The new PR offensive replaces the old Flu Awareness Week, which is being scrapped this year.

Uptake for the free flu vaccination is poor in the UK, despite massive publicity given to the potentially devastating effects of flu infection in the elderly and weak during outbreaks both this year and last.

'Inadequate' preparations

The World Health Organisation branded the UK's preparations for winter last year as "inadequate" and among the worst in Europe.

Although the number of flu cases fell well short of the official definition of an epidemic, many hospitals were swamped by patients suffering from flu-related illnesses.

Health Minister Lord Hunt announced this month that 62m was being made available from NHS savings to develop intermediate care beds for patients too sick to go home, but well enough to vacate their standard hospital bed.

In previous years many patients have "blocked" beds because back-up facilities have not been available.

The new cash will also be used to try to reduce waiting times in A&E, and speed the discharge of patients well enough to leave hospital.

The government has dropped the age threshold below which people qualify for the free flu jab, from 75 to 65 years.

In addition, so-called "high-risk" patients of any age, such as those with chronic heart or chest complaints such as asthma, kidney disease, diabetes or who live in an old people's home or nursing home, will get a free jab.

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See also:

17 Jan 00 | Health
The New NHS: Fit for the future?
08 Aug 00 | Health
Flu: An NHS nightmare
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