Sunday, August 30, 2009
Fluedo: Health chiefs introduce their latest weapon in the war against swine flu... a dice game
By Beezy Marsh and Daniel Boffey
Last updated at 7:52 AM on 30th August 2009
When swine flu first struck Britain the Government responded with helplines, distribution points for anti-viral drugs and a promise of a vaccine by Christmas.
But now health chiefs have unveiled a bizarre new tactic to combat the virus – a role-play game using a set of dice.
The Flu Pandemic Game, which can be downloaded from the Department of Health’s website, is for three to 60 players, takes around 90 minutes and has chance cards much like Monopoly.
Initially devised by Camden Primary Care Trust in North London, the game
is supposed to simulate ‘the effects of a flu pandemic on staffing in an imaginary group of small businesses’, and a version has also been developed for use in GP surgeries and hospitals.
Players assume the identity of staff at imaginary workplaces. These include the Istanbul Supermarket, where all 12 staff are male, in accordance with Muslim tradition.
The game has 15 rounds, each representing one working week. At the start of each round players roll a set of four dice, with the number they roll indicating whether they will go down with swine flu.
In the first round, it takes a roll of four sixes to be condemned to the virus. But as the rounds go on, the probability of each worker catching swine flu increases as the imaginary pandemic takes hold.
By round six a player need only roll two sixes to come down with the virus, which puts them out of the game for three rounds.
The surviving players are asked at the end of each round to discuss the impact that the pandemic has had on the various businesses involved.
The instructions state: ‘With a typical group of players the game lasts between 45 minutes and one hour, but most players appreciate having an additional half-hour for discussion afterwards.’
And once players have finished a game using imaginary persons, they play a second time using their real job titles.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the game also comes with a Government health warning:
‘Some people may find it disturbing to play using details of their own organisation.
‘The game is a simulation and has no effect on subsequent events, but it can seem a little like fortune telling.’
The rules also recommend that the person running the game, known as the facilitator, has ‘substantial experience of delivering training on sensitive topics’, such as child protection.
Unlike in real life, however, the game does not actually allow players to die because, as officials claim, it would make it too ‘unwieldy’.
The instructions explain: ‘The Flu Pandemic Game assumes a zero mortality rate. The worst realistic case modelling scenario assumes a mortality rate of 0.37 per cent based on the 1918/1919 pandemic.
'The possibility of mortality has not been included in the Flu Pandemic Game because simulating such a small probability makes the game unwieldy and too long.’
Critics have complained that it is a waste of time and that the resources should have been directed to the Government’s swine flu helpline.
Katherine Murphy, of the Patients’ Association, said: ‘This game is a ridiculous use of time and money. The Government should be focusing on letting patients know how to get the drugs they need and whether they should be taking them.
‘The money and time spent on this game could surely have been better spent on organising the swine flu helpline better and actually helping patients.’
A Department of Health spokeswoman refused to be drawn on how much the game has cost the taxpayer.
She said: ‘This is part of a suite of guidance issued by the department to support local health and social care services to prepare robust pandemic action plans.
‘Developing guidance is part of the department’s normal emergency preparedness planning to ensure that the NHS is best able to respond.’
Sixty-six people have so far died from swine flu in Britain and 5,000 new patients were diagnosed last week. Earlier this week it was revealed that two swine flu call centres were to close because they were receiving fewer calls than predicted.