More than 2,000 GP practices are to receive software to help them complete pandemic flu contingency plans.

The software, the iQ Pandemic Flu Planner, is produced by specialist software company iQ Medical, which has already won contracts with East of England strategic health authority and several primary care trusts to supply the planning tool to GP practices.

The software enables each GP practice to prepare a pandemic flu plan and to send planning and real time information to PCTs so they can review where additional resources are needed in their area. The information can also be consolidated by SHAs if necessary.

iQ Medical said it had also produced a version for community pharmacies and out-of-hours services and that it had been asked to develop specific versions for PCTs themselves and for dentists.

Graham Poulter, manager director, told EHI Primary Care: “In total, we are now working with over 30 PCTs and we are in detailed discussions with another 42, which will mean over 50% of GP practices in England will ultimately be well prepared.”

This week, GP representatives launched new guidance on how practices should prepare for and operate during a flu pandemic.

The guidance, produced by the BMA’s General Practitioner Committee and the Royal College of General Practitioners and backed by the Department of Health, warns that during the pandemic’s peak, an average GP practice could see an additional 186 cases of flu a week.

It says a pandemic would put the NHS under “unprecedented pressure” and that general practice will be “stretched beyond its current limits.”

The guidance says GP surgeries will be expected to ‘buddy up’ with neighbouring practices to share resources and exchange staff as necessary and that these plans should be in place by 31 March this year.

It says practices should prepare “a really simple guide” to logging on and using practice computers so that non-practice staff can access them during a pandemic if necessary, for example where other healthcare workers are brought in to help out.

The guidance says each practice should also develop an electronic library of staff photographs as photographic ID for doctors and other staff will be essential in a pandemic, for example to enable clinicians to access fuel supplies to do home visits.

The guidance says the government has firm plans for a mass communication programme to let the public know what will be involved with a pandemic and how they can help to make the best use of resources.

The communication programme will include national TV advertising and updates on the National Pandemic Flu Line Service and website, as well as self-care videos educating people on what to do if they contract the virus that will be available online and on digital screens in, for example, town centres and stations.

The guidance says work relating to the Quality and Outcomes Framework could be suspended during a flu pandemic, with the decision being made by SHAs. GP representatives have agreed that during a flu pandemic, practice resources will be protected at the level of the preceding year plus an intervening Review Body award.

Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the GPC, said a pandemic would be a major health emergency that would require a totally different way of helping patients.

He added: “Plans are being put in place now to make sure general practice and the health service not only copes during the crisis but does the best it can do to minimise the spread and impact of a flu pandemic in the UK.”

Link: Preparing for pandemic influenza – guidance for GP practices.