UK businesses unprepared for severe disruption from flu pandemic

18 June 2007

London, UK. Most companies in the UK have inadequate plans to protect their businesses in the event of loss of staff during a flu pandemic even though most recognise they will suffer significant financial loss, according to a recent survey.

Research conducted by YouGov shows that despite being aware of the severe implications of an impending influenza pandemic, most bosses and managers believe their companies are ill-prepared. The research was sponsored by Roche Products Ltd, makers of the antiviral product Tamiflu.

It has been estimated that the overall economic impact of a pandemic strike could cost the UK £95 billion, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other health experts are also forecasting that we are even closer to an influenza pandemic than we have ever been in the last forty years.

In the survey, over three-quarters (79%) of UK bosses admitted that their company had insufficient plans or were unaware of plans in place to protect their workers and annual turnover from the impact of a pandemic strike.  While 40% of UK bosses and managers predicted that over 1/3 of their workforce would be absent from work due to sickness, or at home looking after friends and family, if an influenza pandemic hits the UK.

Only one in five (22%) managers say that their business is prepared for a pandemic, and nearly three quarters (71%) also predicted they will suffer moderate to substantial financial losses due to mass employee absenteeism caused by a pandemic.

Russell Price, Chairman of the Continuity Forum claims: "This research shows that that despite the warnings the vast majority of firms do not have sufficient plans in place to respond to the very considerable impact a pandemic would cause. By failing to invest in sensible measures to protect the organisation, many businesses are exposing themselves to potentially serious difficulties which would directly impact on their ability to operate effectively, if at all and even, in many instances, force their closure."

The financial services and medical/health service sectors are the most prepared for an influenza pandemic, with 30% and 29% respectively, believing they have sufficient plans in place, with just 16% of other industries, who admit to having plans in place. The research also revealed managers surveyed in larger firms (250+ staff) are better prepared to deal with the impact of an influenza pandemic, with nearly half (44%) reporting plans in place.

The research also identified significant gaps in the fundamental steps that businesses need to take to ensure they are prepared, according to managers who have influenza business continuity plans:

  • 85% have no plans or are unaware of plans to stockpile future vaccines to protect their employees
  • 82% have no plans or are unaware of plans to stockpile antiviral medication to protect their employees
  • 45% as yet have no plans or aware of plans in place to equip employees to work from home
  • 40% would currently be unable to provide online/Internet solutions for clients.

John Melville, Managing Director of Roche Products Ltd in the UK said: "It is imperative that organisations start the business continuity planning process for an influenza pandemic as soon as possible. Roche is committed to supporting UK businesses to prepare for an influenza pandemic and believe that as manufacturers of Tamiflu [oseltamivir], we have a responsibility to do so. We are currently working with external advisers to finalise our own internal pandemic plan, part of which, includes provision of antiviral drug to all employees and members of their households."

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