Page last updated at 08:04 GMT, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Row over flu announcements policy

Influenza Virus
A child with special needs has died from swine flu

The chair of the NI Assembly's health committee has said the Department of Health's new policy of confirming swine flu deaths once a week is wrong.

Earlier, the department said it was unable to confirm reports that a child with the virus had died last Thursday.

Jim Wells said he would be asking Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to reverse the decision.

The minister said the policy of reporting the deaths as soon as possible was no longer sustainable.

The child who died is understood to be a girl from County Antrim who had complex medical needs.

She is the fifth special needs child in NI with swine flu to have died.

She is the 11th person from NI to have died after contracting the disease.

'Rumour mill'

Nine of those deaths occurred in NI, while one person died in England and another in Spain.

"Northern Ireland is a small place and if you don't provide accurate information to the public fairly quickly, the rumour mill starts to spin and I think that is not helpful in the fight against swine flu," Mr Wells said.

"I understand that the Department of Health are following guidelines from England, where it is done every Thursday.

"The difficulty is that Northern Ireland is a much more close-knit community than that and I think we should adapt our policy to reflect that situation."

However, Mr McGimpsey said the previous policy of reporting swine flu related deaths as soon as possible was no longer sensible.

"First and foremost, we know that for those families who have just suffered the death of a relative, to then be asked to release personal information for publication is very intrusive and deeply upsetting," he said.

"Secondly, it has become clear that the vast majority of families do not wish to have any details released and only want to grieve in peace."

Last month, two girls from Foyleview Special School in Londonderry who had the virus died within a week of each other.

They were Ashleigh Lynch and Orla O'Kane.

Following their deaths, there were calls from some school principals for teachers in special schools to be included in the first wave of vaccinations. That has now taken place.

More than 2,500 children in over 20 special schools for severe learning disability across Northern Ireland were offered the vaccine as a matter of urgency.

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