HEALTH chiefs have not reacted too slowly to fight the flu pandemic, according to the North West’s incoming swine flu supremo.
Marie Burnham officially begins tomorrow (Friday) the role of NHS North West’s regional director of flu and NHS resilience following her 12-month secondment from East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, where she is chief executive.
The first UK case of swine flu was confirmed three months ago, but latest reports estimate the number of infections at well over 100,000 per week.
The National Flu Service Website crashed within hours of being launched last week and the Government’s handling of the virus has been slammed by a House of Lords report.
But Ms Burnham, who was Trust chief executive for 15 months before the secondment, said: "We have never had a pandemic flu since I have been in the NHS and I believe the Government has been proactive and we can commend them because they’re taking this thing seriously. They haven’t waited for something to happen and are planning properly.
"NHS North West has already spent some time working on it. Demand is getting bigger and they need additional resources to look at the organisation of it. As it has evolved they have brought people in and my job will be to lead this team.
"It is a big role but I am flattered to be asked and I have a lot of experience in planning and performance. The role is working with PCTs, trusts and linking in with the Department of Health as a region. The secondment is for 12 months, but it’s a case of ‘how long is a piece of a string’?"
Ms Burnham, who will be based in Manchester, believes the new swine flu hotline will help relieve the pressure on front line and primary care services.
She said: "I think the hotline is a great opportunity for people to access what they need without clogging up GPs and hospitals. It’s a case of the public taking responsibility and being aware of the dangers."
The death toll from swine flu in the UK remains very low but, if required, decisions on stricter measures ranging from quarantining public buildings, right through to ‘express funerals’ would have to be taken nationally.
"It wouldn’t be my decision, it would be a Government decision," she said.
"Every region would be monitoring it and, if it got to that decision, every Trust and PCT in the country has plans to deal with it and it would be my job to make sure those were implemented."
She also insisted the appointment of interim chief executive Diane Whittingham would not leave East Lancashire hospitals with a vacuum of power in top managerial positions.
"The lady coming in is very good indeed and a very committed and highly experienced chief executive. I think she is good for the trust and she is a very good short term appointment," she added.