Information on the incidence of influenza-like illnesses is collected by the Royal College of General Practitioners. The rate of influenza-like illness started increasing in late November and peaked at 69 GP consultations per 100,000 people in mid-December. The rate of ILIs decreased to 13 consultations per 100,000 people by early February.
I thank the Minister. Winter-prevalent diseases such as influenza and bronchitis lead to increased morbidity. I am told by two local undertakers in Croydon that that has led to a call on undertakers to take as many bodies as possible from south London mortuaries. I am told also that some south London hospitals have found it necessary to hire extra equipment for the cooling of deceased bodies. Is that a normal situation in the NHS, or is it peculiar to south London hospitals? Does it mean that additional support might be appropriate?
I do not know the exact details that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and I shall certainly examine the situation in his area specifically. The peak rate this year was a quarter of the level experienced in 1999-2000, which was the last severe flu season. The connection that he suggests between flu and early death is not showing up in the statistics at the moment, but I shall certainly give his points closer consideration and write to him.
Can my right hon. Friend tell me what steps her Department takes to encourage primary care trusts to contact all older people—those in the influenza bracket, at over 60—and ensure that they are told about the availability of an influenza jab that would increase their chances of surviving the winter?
I can assure my hon. Friend that all primary care trusts have active policies with their GPs and make information available to those over 65 and others who are entitled to the free flu jab. The rate of patients being immunised with the influenza vaccine is increasing, and it is currently 74.1 per cent. That clearly needs to continue to rise to the 75 per cent. level we aim at.