Revealed: cost of swine flu ‘outbreak’

By Paul Francis

A Kent health trust spent more than £1m preparing for the swine flu outbreak – nearly three times as much as other trusts in the UK.

Despite that, managers at the Eastern and Coastal Kent Primary Care Trust say that there will be no cuts to patient services.

The money was nearly three times as much as the average £340,000 spent by health trusts across the country.However, Eastern and Coastal Kent is also one of the largest PCTs, covering the Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Shepway, Swale and Thanet areas.

The West Kent Primary Care Trust spent £576,000. Both said the money was taken from their reserves.

While central goverment met the bulk of the costs, including paying for the antiviral drugs and vaccines, trusts were left with the bill for organising collection points, providing equipment and providing staff to vaccinate patients.

The eventual outbreak proved far less serious than predicted but despite that, trusts were still compelled to make plans to deal with what had been predicted to be a pandemic.

The East Kent trust said the money was taken from reserves and that consequently it did not need to find savings elsewhere.

In a statement, the trust said the money was needed to pay GPs to vaccinate patients, to store and distribute antiviral medicine and to provide protective equipment and clothes for frontline staff.

Other costs included paying South East Health provide an out of hours service for patients needing medicine, training pharmacists and GPs to provide antivirals and setting up a network of 77 anti-viral collection points close to people’s homes.

Other expenses included “communicating public health messages”, the trust said.

Andrew Scott-Clark, deputy director for public health, said: “NHS Eastern and Coastal Kent is the sixth largest primary care trust in England with a widely dispersed population of 732,000. It was the lead primary care trust managing the pandemic for the whole of Kent ensuring a coordinated response across the county.”

Trust acting chief executive David Meikle said: “Each year the PCT sets aside money in its budget for contingencies such as the swine flu pandemic. This represents good financial management. Therefore due to these plans, money was available in 2009/10 to pay for the swine costs in that year.”

NHS West Kent said it incurred similar costs and its bill of £576,000 covered drugs, equipment, staff to help co-ordinate the response and patients suffering flu-like symptoms who were admitted to hospital.

Jess Mookherjee, NHS West Kent’s Assistant Director of Public Health said: “Swine Flu was potentially life-threatening in a number of cases, and NHS West Kent took its response to the pandemic very seriously. Each year we keep reserves of funding back in case of unforeseen pressures on the health service, and therefore no services have been affected by the need to appropriately respond to swine flu.”