Minister denies conflicting swine flu advice

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The Health Secretary Andy Burnham denied today that conflicting advice had been issued to pregnant women over swine flu as he maintained the NHS had dealt "fantastically well" with the virus.





Mr Burnham urged the country to "have confidence" in the handling of swine flu, saying preparations for tackling the illness were the best in the world.

"There isn't conflicting advice. The advice has been clear all along that women who are pregnant should take extra precautions as they would anyway - they should really follow the advice about hand hygiene, they should consider about avoiding crowded places," he told GMTV.

"This is the advice we have given out all of the way."

His remarks came as he was due to update MPs on swine flu, including the launch of the national pandemic flu service on Thursday, aimed at easing pressure on frontline NHS staff.

"This service is the first of its kind in the world, it is a new service and it is giving people a way of getting medication without going through the normal channels; hopefully they will get it more quickly," he said.





Mr Burnham urged a sense of "perspective" on the virus.

He said: "It really is important to keep everything in perspective. This is a mild virus... and there have been thousands of people already who have had it and made a quick recovery."

He added: "We have got the best preparations in place to deal with this and we are dealing with it fantastically well.

"The NHS is a wonderfully resilient organisation and it has absorbed the extra pressure it has been under. GPs, in particular, have done a fantastic job around the country.

"Our plans are, according to the World Health Organisation, not me, the best preparations in the world."

Mr Burnham's comments follow attempts by health officials to allay fears over the impact of the illness on pregnant women and young children over the weekend.

The Department of Health (DH) clarified its advice on how expectant mothers should protect themselves following a series of apparently mixed messages.

Concerns were heightened after a woman with swine flu died last week shortly after giving birth prematurely.

The 39-year-old woman, who died in Whipps Cross Hospital, east London, was named by her brother as Ruptara Miah.

The total number of deaths linked to swine flu now stands at 29 in the UK.

Although experts said the virus was mild in the majority of cases, NHS advice stated that pregnant women were more susceptible to infections and should take precautions.

The Government is expected to face a dilemma when it comes to deciding who will be vaccinated when doses become available later this year amid conflicting advice on inoculating mothers-to-be.

While the DH said the vaccine would be made available to as many people as possible, Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, warned that vaccination was not usually recommended for pregnant women.

"It may be that this is a decision that needs very, very careful thought, particularly if we don't want to cause more harm by the vaccination than we prevent by preventing the illness," she told the BBC yesterday

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said no decisions had yet been made on exactly who would be vaccinated.

The DH also sought to reassure people, stating: "While most pregnant women with swine flu will only have mild symptoms like most other people, there is a higher risk of developing complications.

"If you are pregnant and think you may have swine flu, call your GP."

Advice for holidaymakers was also released, warning Britons not to travel if they have swine flu.

As the school holidays get under way, the DH advised people with the virus to delay journeys until symptoms had gone.

Officials warned that visitors to a number of countries would have to face strict screening procedures as the illness spreads.

This was demonstrated in China, where 52 British schoolchildren and teachers were placed in quarantine in a Beijing hotel after eight teenagers in the group were diagnosed with swine flu.

Meanwhile, economists warned that swine flu could cause the UK's ailing economy to contract by 7.5% this year and write off hopes of a recovery in 2010.

Mr Burnham, a father of three, urged parents to "keep things in perspective".

"As a family we went about our normal business this weekend and I am sure the vast majority of others did, and that was the right thing to do," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

He added: "People need to get on and enjoy their summer but obviously taking precautions because of the situation we are in.

"Life goes on and we have got to get on with our daily lives. People at particular risk will consider whether they want to take extra care and that's the right thing."

He insisted the Government's advice had not changed.

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