A Lollipop Lady holds her sign with hidden camera to watch for angry drivers. Daily Mail
by Jill Sherman, Nicola Woolcock
Lollipop ladies, grass cutters and social workers are to double up as “flu friends” to collect Tamiflu prescriptions for vulnerable people who contract swine flu.
An emergency meeting of town hall leaders in Birmingham today will discuss new contingency guidelines for local authorities to cope with the pandemic, The Times has learnt.
Paul Bettison, the environmental chief of the Local Government Association, said that all town halls should draw up a detailed plan of how staff could help if health or social services staff were overstretched. They should also work out which priority services should be maintained and whether refuse collections would need to be reduced if high numbers of their own staff were off sick.
The association is the only nongovernment body invited to meetings of the emergency committee Cobra, which convenes twice a week over swine flu.
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Mr Bettison, who attends the meetings, told The Times that it was vital that contingency plans were made in case the number of cases increased further. Town halls had the addresses of all their residents and often knew the most vulnerable among them, he said.
“Those living on their own and thought to be vulnerable will be contacted by the council. We will let them know that we will be their ‘flu friend’ and collect a prescription if there is no one else,” he said.
Mr Bettison said social workers might be able to help out where single parents were bedridden and needed someone to care for their children.
“Our community buildings could also be used to deal with any overflow from GPs or chemists to dispense Tamiflu tablets. The tablets could be stockpiled in these buildings and our staff could help out for two weeks at the height of the pandemic. If we didn’t cut the grass for a couple of weeks I don’t think anyone would mind and it would be better to close a library than a school.”
Town halls will, however, ensure that priority and emergency services such as fire and rescue and children’s social services are fully staffed.
Next week university vice-chancellors will also gather at a conference to discuss how they would cope in a swine flu pandemic. Options could include cancelling freshers weeks, increasing the number of podcast lectures or postponing formal registration where new students often queue for hours to receive their paperwork.
“We know that there have been a number of confirmed cases on university campuses and the event will consider possible escalation and the prospect, as some experts have predicted, that the pandemic could peak in September or October as schools and universities reopen,” said a statement from Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said yesterday that all universities and colleges should operate on the assumption that they would remain open throughout the pandemic.
It added: “Students should be encouraged to consider setting up ‘flu buddy schemes’, so that those who have not been affected by the virus can support those [who] have.”