Andrew Lansley has been accused of being poorly prepared for the current flu outbreak, which has killed 50 people and left hundreds requiring critical care across England.
Labour said the Health Secretary made a “serious misjudgment” by axing the autumn advertising campaign to encourage vaccination take-up.
Mr Lansley only issued guidance to midwives to urge pregnant women to get a flu jab on December 16 and there had been no move to offer vaccines through ante-natal clinics, shadow health secretary John Healey claimed.
Mr Healey said it was clear the current outbreak would not be like “normal winter flu because we knew swine flu would be dominant”. He added: “So the central question for the Health Secretary is why he made less preparation for a flu outbreak expected to be more serious.”
Mr Healey’s attack came as Mr Lansley was forced to answer an urgent question in the House of Commons about the current outbreak.
He told MPs that the latest data showed there were 98 per 100,000 consultations with GPs for influenza-like illnesses and he had decided to re-instate the “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it” campaign which he had previously axed. He said hospitals were increasing their critical care capacity but had been cancelling some operations as a result.
The number of deaths this winter from flu is currently 50, with 45 being associated with the H1N1 infection. But he refused to disclose how many pregnant women have died.
He told MPs: “Every winter flu causes illness and distress to many people. It causes serious illness in some cases and unfortunately some deaths. I know that each death is a tragedy and will cause distress for family and friends. But the NHS is again well prepared to respond to the pressures that winter brings. The NHS has responded excellently this year.”
Mr Lansley stressed that the number of GP consultations were lower than the numbers recorded during the pandemic of 2009/10 and below epidemic levels, although he earlier stressed in a written ministerial statement the need to be “cautious” about interpreting the latest data due to the holiday period.
He said: “The most recent data showed 783 people were in critical care in England with influenza-like illness. Where necessary, therefore, local NHS organisations have increased their critical care capacity, in part, regrettably, having to delay routine operations requiring critical care back-up. This is a normal NHS local operational process.”