Swine flu plan cost £1.2bn but report praises response

Dealing with the swine flu outbreak that did not become the pandemic people had feared cost £1.2bn.

Health officials had laid contingency plans for a lethal outbreak of influenza. They planned to buy 132 million vaccine doses – two for everyone in the UK.

These plans were set in motion in June 2009, after a virulent flu was detected in Mexico and the US that April – but the virus, H1N1, was milder than anticipated – though it did kill 457 people. The Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, had warned as many as 65,000 could die. By the time they knew their worst fears were not going to be realised, the authorities were committed to a contract with GlaxoSmithKline for millions of pounds' worth of drugs with no "break" clause. The other supplier, Baxter Healthcare, had agreed a break clause.

The Government received five million doses from Baxter, and 23.9 million from GSK. Officials are considering what to do with the stockpile.

Despite this problem, a report by Dame Deirdre Hine, published yesterday, praised the Government's response as "proportionate and effective".

But she warned: "Given the un-certainty inherent in the unpredictability of the influenza virus, there is a tendency, in an emergency situation and in the absence of information, to assume the worst-case scenario and resource the response accordingly. There is an alternative approach, which is to take a view on the most likely outcome, monitoring events closely and changing tack as necessary."

Dame Deirdre, chairwoman of Bupa and a former chief medical officer for Wales, was called in to investigate allegations that the Government had overreacted and wasted money.