Marramgrass

Fear, uncertainty, doubt.

Yesterday morning I tweeted that I was “A bit disappointed at BBC Radio Ulster breathlessly cranking the #swineflu paranoia this morning.”

I love the BBC, but there seems to be more and more tabloid creeping into their news reporting.

Yesterday morning, as I was driving into Belfast for an early meeting, I caught a report on Good Morning Ulster. Marie-Louise Connolly was reporting on preparations for the expected swine 'flu outbreak.

The piece didn't do much more than play with maybes and ignorance to whip up fear and doubt.

The main point of the report was that while the Department of Health, the BMA and Unison all say that we are well-prepared — and as well-prepared as we can be — for what might happen when a third of the workforce goes down with the pig-death-'flu, we can't know for sure because their contingency plans ‘only exist on paper’ and have never been proved for real.

I don't know much about disaster planning, but I do know that the only way you can really, with certainty, tell if your planning and preparation is good enough is to see what happens when they're really needed. Before then, the best option you have is to run simulations and exercises — which the report said have been run. What more can be done?

It does get better: the report ended with Ms Conolly talking about some more of the “unknowns” that we should be worried about. “Will the virus mutate into something more serious once winter-time comes?” It might. It also might mutate into something that has no ill effects on humans. “Why younger people and middle-aged people are coming down with the virus?” Because that's what happens in a 'flu outbreak, and we know it. Younger people and middle-aged people tend to mix more and with larger groups, so they catch more bugs.

I'm not sure what this report was trying to achieve. There was no flaw in the planning that was being brought to light. Instead, without saying as much, it showed that as much planning as can be done is being done. All that we're left with from this piece is a bit more paranoia.

Face mask, anyone?

(If you get there before next Wednesday, you can hear the report on iPlayer. It starts at 1:05.37.)