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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the reasons are for the time taken to make available the national pandemic influenza service; on what date he expects the service to be available; and what contingency arrangements have been made for circumstances in which swine influenza spreads at a rate more rapid than that assumed for the purposes of his Department's existing arrangements for the distribution of antiviral treatments.
With an innovative system such as the full national pandemic flu service it was essential that there was rigorous scrutiny to ensure that the system would both work and offer value for money to the United Kingdom taxpayer. This inevitably led to some delays in signing the contract with British Telecom. The contract for the development of the system was signed with BT in December 2008.
The contingency arrangements, should the current outbreak spread at a more rapid rate, are that an interim national pandemic flu service has been put in place to supplement the assessment and authorisation processes. The interim service has been tested and consists of a phone service that the public can access through a single 0800 number, and a supporting website application. That will mean that people can have their symptoms assessed either over the phone or online. If it is established that they have developed swine flu, they will be issued with an authorisation number that they will then be able to use to access antivirals in a timely and appropriate way.
The full national pandemic flu service will be ready in the autumn, having been fully tested.