Stay upfront on swine flu - MLA

SDLP Foyle MLA Pól Callaghan has welcomed the latest swine flu occupancy figures for Altnagelvin, saying that they prove the value of being transparent and upfront with the public during the whole winter flu period.

The Stormont Health Committee member said: "It is welcome that the numbers of people with swine flu in Altnagelvin has reduced over the last week, with 3.3% of non-critical care beds used by confirmed or suspected swine flu patients. This is quite a drop from the figure of 7.7% last week, which was much higher than other hospitals across the North. That said, Altnagelvin's figure is still well above the average for the region and we don't yet have a full explanation for this from the authorities.

"Of course, we don't have the full trend over the winter months because the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency took the view until into January that information for local areas should not be released. I am pleased that following calls from myself and others that this position was reversed.

"Similarly, after pressure for more information on the spread of swine flu fatalities across the North, the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey informed the Assembly of the location of the hospitals in which a two year-old Southern child tragically lost her life. Prior to this the Health Board maintained to me and the whole Health Committee that that releasing such information would breach data protection laws. I stressed then that it was not credible and the release of information since has not spread alarm, it has better informed communities.

"I hope that the department reviews its whole communications handling of the swine flu problem once the season passes so that a better strategy is put in place to give information to local communities such as Derry's next year."