Surgeries strain to handle swine flu fears

GP surgeries in Suffolk and Essex are being overwhelmed by a growing number of people unnecessarily worried about swine flu, medics have warned.

Rebecca Lefort

GP surgeries in Suffolk and Essex are being overwhelmed by a growing number of people unnecessarily worried about swine flu, medics have warned.

Since the weekend doctors have seen a large increase in the number of people calling or visiting practices, despite advice to stay at home and call dedicated phone lines.

The surge has led to concerns that other services will be put under pressure because of the drain on GPs' resources.

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Earlier this week NHS North East Essex set up a local swine flu co-ordination centre to ease pressure on frontline doctors, and on its first day of operation on Wednesday more than 400 calls were received within nine hours.

Now NHS Suffolk has called on the public to remain calm and avoid calling their GPs unless absolutely necessary.

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Dr Lucy Henshall, a GP at Lattice Barn Surgery in Ipswich and a member of the Suffolk Local Medical Committee, which represents GPs in the county, said: “There is a lot of pressure on GPs and some are really feeling the strain.

“And what is a shame is that it appears to be as much due to hype and panic as to actual cases of swine flu. The volumes of cases have crept up but the pressure on GPs has ballooned.

“A lot of people are calling unnecessarily, without having checked everything they could do themselves before.

“It is creating a lot of pressure because it is taking up doctors' time. And over the summer the pressure will rise as there are more cases. If other services suffer and we have to cut back that is not in the public interest.

“GPs haven't quite reached the point where we have had to cut back services, but there are practices on the verge of that, and they are making that known.”

Dr Henshall said the pressure had grown particularly since the weekend, following the death of a GP in Bedfordshire and a six-year-old girl in west London.

Nationally figures from the Royal College of GPs show the number of people contacting their doctor over fears they have swine flu has jumped almost 50% in the last week.

Dr David Kanka, deputy director of public health for NHS Suffolk, said there were no figures or estimates for the number of people who have contracted swine flu in the county, because the data was no longer being collected.

However, he said during recent days between 50 and 100 people each day had been given antiviral drugs to combat swine flu.

He added: “GP surgeries are coming under pressure and if you think you have swine flu there are several steps you should take before calling your GP.

“What people might also find is that it might be more difficult for patients to get a routine appointment.”

Swine flu - what to do

If you think you have swine flu, you should:

Stay at home, and go online and check your symptoms on the symptom checker at

Call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 or the swine flu information line on 0800 1 513 513

If you are still concerned, you should then call your GP, who can provide a diagnosis over the phone, but do not go to the practice

You should not go to Accident & Emergency if you suspect you have swine flu

If you are not showing symptoms, you should go about your business as usual - including children going to school - while taking sensible precautions to try to limit the spread of infection, such as:

Covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing

Using a tissue when possible and disposing of dirty tissues promptly and carefully

Maintaining good basic hygiene by, for example, washing hands frequently with soap and water, particularly before eating

For more information visit


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