Monthly Archives: October 2005

Search for missing mother and son

Shazia Imam and son Hassan Mahmood
Shazia Imam and her son have not been seen for a week
Police are stepping up their search for an Asian mother and her six-month-old son who have been missing since last Friday night.

Shazia Imam, also known by the surnames Mahmood and Begum, has not been seen since she left her home in Swindon, Wiltshire, with her son Hassan Mahmood.

She told her husband she was going out and has not made contact since.

Police say they want to reassure her they have no intention of separating her from her son.

“We are concerned for the welfare of both mother and baby and we need Shazia to get in touch to let us know they are all right”
Det Insp Debbie Waters

Ms Imam is believed to have connections in Birmingham, Blackburn, Bristol and London.

Acting Det Insp Debbie Waters said: “We are concerned for the welfare of both mother and baby and we need Shazia to get in touch to let us know they are all right.

“We would also like to speak to anyone who may have either seen the young mother and her baby during the last few days or has information as to where she is currently staying.”

Ms Imam left home with a green Mothercare pushchair.

She is described as 5ft 4ins tall, of medium build, with long black hair and light brown marks on both cheeks below her eyes.

When she left her home in Manchester Road, Swindon, she was wearing light brown trousers and a light brown top.

Anyone with any information about her whereabouts should call Swindon Police on 01793 528111.

More women buy morning-after pill

Image of morning after pill
It is only effective within 72 hours of unprotected sex
The number of women buying the morning-after pill from chemists has nearly doubled in a year, figures show.

Over-the-counter purchases rose from 27% in 2003/04 to 50% in 2004/05, the Office for National Statistics found.

Fewer women asked their GP for a prescription for the emergency contraceptive in the same time period.

However, the percentage of women using it remained the same – about 7% of women aged 16-49 using the morning after pill every year.

Over-the-counter purchases

Chemists have been allowed to sell the morning-after pill without a GP prescription since 2001.

The proportion of women obtaining the morning-after pill from their own GP or practice nurse fell from 41% in 2003/04 to 33% in 2004/05 but the proportion getting it from a family planning clinic remained stable at 21%.

Condom failure was the reason for needing emergency contraception given by over two fifths (46%) of women.

“It is understandable that women will find their local pharmacy an easier place to get hold of emergency pills”
Toni Belfield, of the Family Planning Association

The most popular method of contraception remains the pill, with a quarter of women aged 16-49 relying on it.

The second most popular method was the male condom, used by 22% of the women studied.

About 6% of women used the morning after pill once during 2004/5, 1% used it twice and less than 1% used it more than twice.

Toni Belfield, of the Family Planning Association, said: “It is understandable that women will find their local pharmacy an easier place to get hold of emergency pills, because of longer opening hours and greater accessibility.

“This is important because emergency hormonal contraception is only effective within 72 hours of unprotected sex so the sooner women get hold of it the better.”

“They are so freely available they are seen as a safety net for contraceptive failure”
A spokesman from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children

She said it was important that women be made aware that they could also obtain it free from their GP or Family Planning Clinic.

She added that sexually active people should also be alert to the risk of sexually transmitted infections and practice safe sex.

David Pruce, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, said: “We are issuing thousands of leaflets over the next few weeks through pharmacies to highlight the importance of safe sex and explaining how people can get help for sexually transmitted illnesses.”

A spokesman from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said women should be aware that emergency contraception could cause what he termed abortion because it can stop a fertilised egg from implanting as well as working by stopping an egg being released in some women.

“For that reason we oppose its use. We are against the destruction of unborn children.

“We also oppose greater and easier access and availability to such powerful drugs, which we fear is happening.

“They are so freely available they are seen as a safety net for contraceptive failure.”

Contraceptive choice ‘must widen’

Image of the Pill
It can be difficult to remember to take the pill each day
Many more women should be offered long-lasting birth control such as the contraceptive jab, the body advising the NHS in England and Wales says.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence estimates the move would cut the number of unplanned pregnancies by 70,000 each year.

In 2003-4, only 8% of women aged 16-49 used long-acting contraceptives, which also include implants and the coil.

That compared with 25% who took the Pill and 23% who relied on condoms.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) says that the advantage of the long-lasting birth controls is that women do not have to remember to use contraceptives every day or each time they have sex.

It has now issued guidance for England and Wales saying that long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods should be offered to all women seeking advice on contraception.

But campaigners have warned that encouraging increased use of these methods could help fuel promiscuity and the rise of sexually transmitted infections.

Unplanned pregnancies per 1,000 women using:
Combined oral contraceptive pill – 80
Intrauterine device or system – 1 to 2
Injection – 1
Implants – less than 1
Source: NICE

About 30% of pregnancies in Britain are unplanned, it is estimated.

Some of these are down to failure to use contraceptive as directed, such as remembering to take the Pill.

By contrast, LARC methods such as implants, injectible contraceptives, and coils – namely intrauterine devices and the intrauterine system- are less susceptible to incorrect usage.

NICE estimates that if 7.7% of women switched to long-acting contraceptives, there could be 70,000 fewer unplanned pregnancies in England each year.

Its new guidelines aim to promote greater contraceptive choice for women, which, in turn, could help reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortion rates.

Department of Health figures show there were 185,400 abortions in 2004 in England and Wales – a rise of 2.1% from 181,600 in 2003 and about 5.3% from 176,000 in 2002.


It would also be cheaper for the NHS if more women used LARC methods, NICE calculates.

“Women do not know enough about the range of contraceptive choices including long-term methods”
Toni Belfield of the Family Planning Association

Dr Chris Wilkinson, a consultant in sexual and reproductive health who helped develop the guidelines, said: “Expert clinical opinion is that LARC methods may have a wider role in contraception and their increased uptake could help to reduce unplanned pregnancy.

“The current limited use of LARC suggests that healthcare professionals need better guidance and training so that they can help women make an informed choice.”

Professor Allan Templeton, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “Women should be presented with all available choices of contraception, including long-acting reversible methods, as well as all known risks and benefits.

“This will ensure that women can choose and manage, after consultation with their doctor, their own contraceptive needs.

“Overall, LARC methods are not only more cost-effective than the combined oral pill but are also more effective at reducing unintended pregnancy.

I am very worried by the urge to put young women on long term contraception
Rachel, London


But campaigners Norman Wells, director of Family and Youth Concern, said NHS money would be best spent highlighting the benefits of faithful and long-term relationships rather than indiscriminately promoting contraception.

“A far more effective way of achieving cost savings to the NHS would be to spell out the positive physical and emotional benefits of confining sexual intimacy to a faithful, lifelong relationship between a husband and wife.”

Toni Belfield of the Family Planning Association said women should be given every opportunity to make an informed choice about what contraceptive method best suits them.

“We know from the 100,000 enquiries our helpline receives every year that women do not know enough about the range of contraceptive choices including long-term methods.”

Jan Barlow, chief executive of Brook, welcomed the guidelines but stressed that LARC methods did not protect against sexually transmitted infections, and young people must also be encouraged to use condoms.

Matthew O’Gorman, spokesman for pro-life charity Life, told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “To advise young people that they should be taking implants which will mean that there is less likelihood of them conceiving will just further encourage promiscuity and risky sexual behaviour.

“This will lead to a further increase in the sexually-transmitted infections that we are fighting against.”

Baroness Gould, chair of the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV called on the government to monitor PCTs’ provision of contraception.

Epidurals increase birth aid need

Pregnant woman
Pregnant women ‘should be aware of the pros and cons of epidurals’
Women who have an epidural to ease the pain of childbirth are more likely to need medical help to have their baby, scientists say.

A review of 21 studies comparing epidurals to other forms of pain relief showed women who chose them were 40% more likely to need intervention.

The Cochrane Review found this could mean instruments such as forceps being used to deliver the baby.

Around 20% of UK women have epidurals to ease the pain of labour.

“Epidurals provide the most effective form of pain relief but it’s important that women are told about the side effects”
Belinda Phipps, National Childbirth Trust

The Cochrane Review, an independent health database, reviewed studies involving 6,664 women.

The review found women opting for an epidural were more likely to experience a longer second stage of labour – when the baby is pushed out of the birth canal – and to have drugs to stimulate contractions.

They also faced a greater risk of being unable to move for a short time after birth and to experience low blood pressure.

But there were no significant differences in the risk of having a Caesarean, long-term backache or immediate adverse effects on the baby between the women having epidurals and those who did not.

‘Better pain relief’

However, there are concerns over using instruments to help deliver babies.

Risks associated with forceps use include possible damage to the woman’s bladder and bruising on the infant’s head.

A ventouse vacuum pump, which can also be used to help speed delivery, has been linked to the baby’s head being misshapen for a few days afterwards.

The authors of the review, led by Dr Millicent Anim-Somuah from Liverpool Women’s Hospital, said that more research was needed to evaluate the risks linked to epidural as pain relief during birth.

They also said that women should be made aware of the risks associated with epidurals.

They added: “Evidence from this review demonstrates that epidural analgesia offers better pain relief in labour.

“However, women who use this form of pain relief have an increased risk of instrumental delivery when compared with women who used non-epidural forms of analgesia or no analgesia at all.

“The evidence presented in this review should be made available to women considering pain relief in labour.

“The decision about whether to have an epidural should then be made in consultation between the woman and her carer.”

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, said: “This research shows forceps and ventouse births are more common after epidurals.

“Epidurals provide the most effective form of pain relief but it’s important that women are told about the side effects and the downside of having this procedure.”

Flu: Your Questions Answered

Concerns over the potential impact of bird flu, and a flu pandemic in humans, have grown over recent weeks.

Here, England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson, answers your questions.

Is bird flu lethal to anybody or just those who are elderly or who have chest complaints?
Andrew, Llanymynech, Wales

Image of Liam Donaldson
Sir Liam published the UK’s flu preparedness plan this week

Bird flu is a disease that affects birds. It is very difficult for the H5N1 (avian or bird flu) virus to pass from birds to humans and the chances of it doing so are low.

So far there have been about 60 deaths worldwide despite the huge numbers of fowl living in close proximity with people in the Far East.

Our concern is that the virus could change and begin to pass easily between humans.

Because such a virus would be a new strain of flu, nobody would have immunity against it and it would make people very ill.

People of every age could be at risk.

What is the precise difference between the ‘bird flu’ and normal flu? Is it simply a matter of mortality rates?
Stephanie, Cambridge, England

On the very rare occasion that H5N1 does pass from birds to people, it can cause very serious illness and be fatal.

These cases occurred in South East Asia where people and poultry (ducks and chickens) live in very close proximity.

Ordinary seasonal flu (normal flu) occurs every year and affects 10-15% of population.

For most people it is an unpleasant but not life-threatening infection.


Most people recover within one or two weeks without requiring medical treatment.

It is not without complications, however, and in an average winter there are around 12,000 ‘excess deaths’.

The very young, the older people and those with chronic illness are most at risk of serious consequences from ordinary seasonal flu.

We recommend that people who have these risk factors should have flu vaccinations every year. They are arranged by GPs who order in the necessary quantities of vaccine every autumn.

In the far east, where bird flu has existed for a while, only a small number of people have actually died as a consequence of contracting this disease. What is the basis for estimating 50,000 could die in this country?
Richard, Middlesbrough

There have been previous pandemics of influenza and they probably started by the mixing of an animal or bird flu virus with a human flu virus to produce a new strain of flu.

Based on advice from independent experts, we are planning on the basis of one in four of the population could become ill.

“The number of deaths could be higher”

The estimate of 50,000 deaths was made by looking at fatality rates after the last pandemics in this country, the number of people who die each year from ordinary flu, and the opportunities that we have for minimising the effects of a pandemic.

We have to plan for a range of eventualities and the number of deaths could be higher.

If bird flu mutates into a form that can be passed between humans, is it possible that the mutated virus would be less virulent than the current strain, or is it most likely that the severity would be the same as seen in the recent human cases where it has been contracted from birds?
Simon, Manchester

The high mortality rate in cases in South East Asia may be because only the most serious cases are detected.

We do not know if a pandemic strain, when it occurs, will be more severe or less severe.

It is possible that a pandemic strain will be less severe as it evolves and becomes transmissible between humans.

Should the human flu and avian flu meet and mutate into this unknown virus, what are the chances of scientists being able to create a vaccine, and in what kind of time scale?
Chris, Hertfordshire

We are very optimistic that a vaccine will be developed.

But, we can’t develop a vaccine before a pandemic starts because we won’t know what strain the virus will be.

It is only then that a vaccine can be matched to it.

“We are already taking other steps to make sure we can develop a vaccine as quickly as possible”

As soon as a pandemic strain of flu emerges, we will isolate the virus and begin to develop the vaccine.

The vaccine will then need to be manufactured, go through clinical trials and be licensed. This will take between four to six months.

This is an advance on traditional approaches and uses the most modern scientific methods.

We are already taking other steps to make sure we can develop a vaccine as quickly as possible.

These include increasing the uptake of seasonal flu vaccine to increase manufacturing capacity so that when we need to make large quantities of pandemic flu vaccine, manufacturers will be able to do so quickly.

We are also developing a library of different flu strains and considering further research into vaccine development.

When the human-to-human version of this virus does become reality, what common sense steps can ordinary people take to keep healthy?
Neil, Wales

The virus is spread through the air when people cough or sneeze. There are some basic measures you can take to reduce the risk of infection.

You can:

  • Cover you mouth and nose when you’re coughing or sneezing using a tissue wherever possible
  • Dispose of dirty tissues promptly and carefully – bag and bin them
  • Avoid non essential travel and large crowds of people wherever possible
  • Maintain good hygiene – washing hands frequently in soap and water protects against picking the virus up from surfaces and passing it on
  • Clean hard surfaces (e.g. kitchen surfaces, door handles etc) frequently, using a normal cleaning product
  • Make sure your children follow this advice

There is a lot of talk about potential vaccines and anti viral drugs in case of pandemic outbreak – nobody mentions whether these would be suitable to administer to children. Would they?

Edita, London

Yes, we would be able to give anti-viral drugs to children.

Children weighing over 23kg (usually aged seven and over) will be able to be given adult dose capsules for treatment in a flu pandemic.

Children weighing below that amount will need to be referred to a doctor for treatment.

We have ordered part of our antiviral stockpile as a powder so that a special formulation can be made up for these children.

My son is susceptible to breathing problems when he has flu/colds and has been hospitalised with this. What should I do to protect him from this risk? Should I look to have my own stock of Tamiflu for him?
John, Brighton

Talk to your GP.

If your son is thought to be someone at risk of the effects of flu, your GP will be able to advise about vaccination or other preventive measures.

Does the winter flu jab protect against the new strain of the virus at all and is it safe to eat eggs or chicken meat in the affected areas?
Rafal, Glencormack, Ireland

The ordinary seasonal flu vaccine helps to protect against ordinary seasonal flu. It offers no protection against avian flu.

“It is safe to eat poultry but you should make sure that it is cooked properly”

If there were a new pandemic strain emerging, new vaccine would need to be developed and manufactured to protect against the pandemic strain of flu.

It is very difficult to contract ‘bird flu’ (H5N1) virus.

At the moment there is no bird flu in the UK. It is safe to eat poultry but you should make sure that it is cooked properly.

Imports to the UK of chicken from affected areas have been banned.

For changes to this advice, you should monitor the Food Standards Agency’s website.

A lot of companies offer the flu jab to all employees indiscriminately. Should one have it simply because it is on offer? What are the long term risks of having the jab if you are not in a high-risk group?
Dimitri, London

We already have well established arrangements for vaccination against seasonal flu and our programme is one of the most effective in Europe.

We recommend seasonal vaccination for all those over 65 or those who suffer from illnesses that put them at higher risk from flu – such as asthma, diabetes or serious heart or lung conditions.

If you are someone who has been recommended to have flu vaccination, please make sure you have made your appointment with your GP practice.

If your company offers flu vaccine and you want more advice, talk to your GP. Influenza vaccine has a very good safety record.

What is the government doing to ensure that health staff will be adequately protected, to convince them it is safe to go to work?
Douglas, Birmingham

We want to make sure that the NHS is as well prepared as it can be to respond to a flu pandemic.

We have seen how well our NHS responds to other emergency situations such as terrorist attacks and train crashes. We need to make sure they can respond just as well in the face of a flu pandemic.

The NHS will not only have to cope with an increase in the number of patients but it is inevitable that some frontline health workers themselves will fall ill.

“We think that if the H5N1 virus changed and became a pandemic strain of flu, this vaccine could offer some limited protection”

In the unlikely event of a pandemic occurring before the stockpile of anti-virals is complete, front line health workers will be given priority.

These drugs could help to reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Healthcare workers who are working closely with infected patients will be provided with face masks and will be asked to wash their hands regularly to help slow the spread of infection.

We are also purchasing 2-3 million doses of H5N1 vaccine. This is a vaccine which protects only against the virus which is currently affecting birds (which may not be the eventual pandemic ‘flu strain that emerges).

We think that if the H5N1 virus changed and became a pandemic strain of flu, this vaccine could offer some limited protection.

We would consider giving it to healthcare workers to help protect them.

Should the problems with bird flu prevent holidaying in Asia, Thailand for example?
Steve, Leeds

There are no travel restrictions for persons travelling to Vietnam or other affected countries.

However, for those travelling to Vietnam and Thailand we recommend that they:

  • Avoid visiting live animal markets and poultry farms
  • Avoid contact with surfaces contaminated with animal faeces
  • Do not attempt to bring any live poultry products back to the UK
  • Keep an eye on the Foreign Office travel advice for any changes (http://

I would like to know what measures are to be taken against wild birds, should the bird flu develop in the UK?

The response to any outbreak depends wholly on the particular circumstances.

However, any measures taken by the government would be based on a risk assessment and be proportionate.

“The evidence so far shows that only people who have been in very, very close contact with infected birds have caught the disease”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) would carry out a risk assessment to establish risk to any nearby poultry flocks.

DEFRA and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency would work with the local health authorities and the local health protection unit to assess the risk associated with contact with wild birds.

Even if H5N1 is detected there would be a low risk to the public.

The evidence so far shows that only people who have been in very, very close contact with infected birds have caught the disease.

We have two hens which we keep in a coop in the garden. Is it wise to keep them, or should we get rid of them? If so, how should they be disposed of?

Don’t get rid of them. Simply follow DEFRA’s advice:

  • Feed and water your birds indoors to avoid contamination by wild birds and other animals
  • Make sure your premises are tidy and clean. Spilled feed, litter and standing water attract wild birds and vermin
  • Control vermin
  • Make sure your clothes, footwear and hands are clean, before and after contact with birds
  • Supply clean, fresh drinking water
  • Be vigilant
  • Look out for signs of disease. Mortality, falling egg production and respiratory distress may be early signs of a disease problem
  • If you suspect disease, act quickly and consult your vet. Bird flu is a notifiable disease and must be reported to your local Divisional Veterinary Manager

Is there any risk of domestic cats getting this disease if they catch infected wild birds? What would be the risk of a person catching it from an infected bird brought in by a cat?

There is no evidence that any type of bird flu has passed from avian species to cats.

So even in the unlikely event that the reported dead birds had died from flu, the risk to your cat would be extremely low.

Cases of dog flu have been recorded in the US, but in this case the virus is believed to have originated from horse flu.

Infant in hospital after accident

Tiddlywinks' City Nursery,
An ambulance was immediately sent for by staff
A 16-month-old toddler has been taken to hospital after she stopped breathing when a blanket in her cot apparently became entangled around her neck.

Staff at Tiddlywinks’ City Nursery, Gloucester gave the infant the kiss of life until an ambulance arrived.

In a statement, the nursery said she was in a fully-monitored cot room so staff were able to respond immediately.

On Friday evening the unnamed infant was said to be in a stable condition at Bristol Children’s Hospital.

‘Investigation launched’

The nursery statement said staff were able to resuscitate her and then the ambulance arrived.

Gloucestershire police have confirmed they have launched an investigation, though crime is not suspected.

Tiddlywinks is one of a group Gloucester nurseries catering for babies to pre-school children.

It was given a satisfactory rating following a recent inspection by Ofsted.

Attack schoolgirl wants to return

Shanni Naylor. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Shanni’s grandmother says the girl will be scarred for life
A 12-year-old girl slashed across the face by another pupil says she wants to return to the school where it happened.

Shanni Naylor needed 30 stitches in her face after the assault during an English lesson at Myrtle Springs School in Sheffield on Wednesday afternoon.

It is believed she had intervened to stop her assailant bullying another pupil the day before.

A 12-year-old girl was arrested in connection with the attack and released on police bail until December.

It is thought the attacker used a blade from a pencil sharpener to slash her victim.

Shanni Naylor, who spent three days in hospital, said she had problems with her attacker before the incident.

She said: “I had just got up to talk to Miss Doyle (the teacher) and she (the other girl) just attacked me.

Lee and Shanni Naylor
Lee Naylor comforts his daughter on her release from hospital

“I think it was with a blade.

“I’d had a fight with her before and it drew some blood.”

Shanni needed to have 30 stitches put in at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

Speaking at her grandmother’s home in the Arbourthorne area of the city, she added: “The doctors just told me to take it easy and to be careful…They said I might have to have plastic surgery.”

When asked about going back to the school where it happened she said: “I just hope it gets better. I’ve got a lot of friends there.”

Shanni’s grandmother Kathleen Naylor, 55, said doctors had told the family that her granddaughter would be scarred for life.

One wound runs from the girl’s hairline down across her left cheek, just missing her left eye. The other starts just below her right eye and runs down her right cheek.

“In time it might fade,” said Mrs Naylor. “But Shanni may have to go back for operations for skin grafts.”

“I would not want it to happen to any other child in any other school. Somebody will end up more seriously hurt than she was.”

On her release from Sheffield Children’s Hospital, Shanni’s father Lee, 33, said it was not yet clear whether his daughter would return to the same school.

“I would like it to be a lot stricter with more security and safety, not just for Shanni but for the other pupils as well,” he said.

“I can’t wait to get her home for a bit of TLC with her dad.”

A spokesman for headteacher Ed Wydenbach said: “I can confirm there was an incident in school which was dealt with accordingly. A knife was not involved.”

On Friday Myrtle Springs School confirmed there was a second incident there the day after the attack on Shanni Naylor.

The school said the incident had now been dealt with and was unconnected to the attack on Wednesday.

It is understood two girls received minor injuries when they were attacked during a lunchtime dance session

Boy ‘improving’ after flat ordeal

The boy survived in the flat for two weeks
A three-year-old boy who survived alone for a fortnight alongside the body of his dead mother is “improving every day”, according to his uncle.

The body of Anne-Marie McGarrity, 33, was found in a fifth floor flat in the Leith area of Edinburgh on Saturday.

Her son, Michael, was thought to have survived on food kept in the larder.

In a statement, Ms McGarrity’s brother, Keiran, said: “He is becoming more chatty each day and is behaving like any other three-year-old boy.”

‘Devastating time’

“We are glad he is getting better. We are hopeful he can leave hospital soon.”

“Michael has been watching Bob the Builder, which he loves and playing with his Incredibles toys.

“He is beginning to tell us a bit about what happened but it is very early days and it will be a long time before we know the whole story.

Michael’s uncle said it had been a “devastating time” for the whole family and he asked for their privacy to be respected.

“We all need time on our own to help Michael through this and do not want to make any further statements at this time,” Mr McGarrity said.

Michael was discovered when police broke into the flat at the weekend.


The boy’s grandmother Eleanor McGarrity said she had alerted officers after staff at Michael’s nursery became worried about him and phoned her.

She was reported to have described the boy as “like a skeleton” and very weak when he was found at the flat in North Fort Street.

Michael has been undergoing treatment for dehydration at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.

NHS Lothian said the boy was “doing well” and should be discharged within a few days.

Reviewing procedures

Lothian and Borders Police said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding his mother’s death. Initial post-mortem tests have proved inconclusive as to the cause of death.

Anne-Marie’s neighbour in the Fort estate flats, Moira Chisholm, said: “The mail was coming back out through the door and in retrospect I think it might have been Michael trying to attract attention.

“I told the postman, ‘can you make sure you put the mail right through’ in case she was away. “And he did put it through but later it was back out again.”

The local MP for Leith, Mark Lazarowicz, called for an inquiry and said questions needed to be answered to avoid any recurrence.

Edinburgh City Council said it would be reviewing absence procedures at nurseries.

A spokesman said: “While it must be recognised that nursery education is non-statutory provision and there is no requirement for a child to attend, this situation shows that it is very important to establish the reasons why a child is not attending and in the light of this we will be reviewing our absence procedures.”

Paid leave plans for new fathers

A father holding his baby
The new bill is expected to be published on Wednesday
Fathers of babies could get the right to take three months’ leave with a state allowance of

Bird flu pandemic ‘will hit UK’

A bird flu pandemic will hit Britain – but not necessarily this winter, the chief medical officer has said.

Sir Liam Donaldson said a deadly outbreak would come when a strain of bird flu mutated with human flu.

He told the BBC’s Sunday AM show it would probably kill about 50,000 people in the UK, but the epicentre of any new strain was likely to be in East Asia.

The UK has so far stockpiled 2.5m doses of anti-viral drugs – and may restrict travel if there is an outbreak.

New vaccine

On Saturday, UK tests confirmed a case in Romania of a strain of bird flu which is potentially deadly to humans, sparking fears avian flu could spread to the UK through migrating birds.

“The estimate we are working to in the number of deaths is around 50,000 excess deaths from flu”
Sir Liam Donaldson
A pandemic would occur if this strain of bird flu mutated with human flu – which spreads very easily – to create a new strain.

He said it was “less likely” that any new flu strain would come this year.

However he said that if the flu first emerged in another part of the world it would give UK scientists time to try to create an effective vaccine against the virus before it arrived in the UK.

“We can’t make this pandemic go away, because it is a natural phenomenon, it will come,” he said.

“But what we can do is to limit its impact.”

He said a contingency plan was being released on Thursday, outlining the steps the government would take in the event of an outbreak.

750,000 deaths?

If a new strain did hit the UK before a vaccine was created, Sir Liam said an extra 50,000 would probably die – and a death toll of 750,000 was “not impossible”.

“In a normal winter flu year… flu actually kills in excess of 12,000 people,” Sir Liam said.

“But if we had a pandemic, the problem would be that our existing vaccines don’t work against it, we would have to develop a new vaccine, and people don’t have natural immunity because it hasn’t be around before.”

The total death toll depended on whether the mutated strain was a mild or serious one, he said.

However, Dr Martin Wiselka, consultant in infectious diseases at Leicester Royal Infirmary, said a death toll of 50,000 was a “complete guess”.

“It could be worse, it could be better. I think initially it could be worse than that,” he said.

“When a new strain arrives it tends to be more virulent but then it slows down. But the honest answer is we don’t know.”

“Measures such as controlling movement of populations are not as important, because flu transmits extremely quickly”
Sir Liam Donaldson
If a pandemic did materialise, the top priority other than vaccination would be anti-viral medicine which would “stop some people dying”, Sir Liam said.

The UK has ordered 14.6m doses of anti-viral drug Tamiflu – enough for 25% of the population – which would alleviate symptoms among people affected.

Sir Liam admitted the UK only had 2.5m doses so far, with 800,000 new doses arriving every month.

The chief medical officer said key NHS workers would be the first to get treatment, but during any outbreak it would soon become apparent which age group was worst affected, and treatment would be targeted towards them.

Measures such as controlling movement of populations were not so important, because flu transmitted extremely quickly, he said.

However, the government might advise people to avoid non-essential travel in a bid to slow the spread of the virus, he acknowledged. It also might prove necessary to close schools and other public buildings.

But this would not affect air travel, he said.

‘Different times’

Sir Liam said flu pandemics were things which came in “natural cycles” every 10 to 40 years, with the last taking place in 1968/69.

However he said that three decades ago there were no anti-viral drugs to combat the virus in its initial stages, as there are now.

He also said the situation was not comparable to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 which killed millions around the world, as we now lived in “different times” with great advances in hospitals and medical science.

“We have to get the [new] virus from wherever it occurs… and get it into our labs and then make a vaccine,” he added.