The Government's decision to scrap the flu awareness campaign may have contributed to a host of preventable deaths, the former chief medical officer has said.

A report by Professor Sir Liam Donaldson concluded there were more fatalities and admissions to hospital in England in the winter of 2010/11 than during the flu pandemic the previous year.

This was "likely" to have been caused by "striking" differences in the Government response and a "laissez-faire" approach adopted during the second outbreak, he concluded.

The paper, published in Eurosurveillance, found there were about 10 per cent more hospital admissions, 30 per cent more deaths and 30 per cent more critical care admissions in the second year than in the pandemic year, when there were two waves of illness. Professor Lindsey Davies, president of the Faculty of Public Health, told GP magazine: "It is a source of great concern that lives may have been lost because people were not reminded of the risks of flu and how to avoid getting it."

But Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said the Government disagreed with some of the report's conclusions.

"The authors have compared periods of high levels of flu that happened in completely different circumstances," he said.