Swine flu fears put health service under pressure

PATIENT fears about swine flu are putting an extra strain on health services in Suffolk.

Rebecca Lefort

PATIENT fears about swine flu are putting an extra strain on health services in Suffolk.

Calls to the county's GP out of hours service have jumped to unprecedented levels because of public anxiety about the pandemic.

Take Care Now (TCN), which runs the service in Suffolk, said it had taken 53 per cent more calls this weekend than the same time last year, with the increase directly linked to swine flu.

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The news follows warnings from GPs that they are feeling intense pressure as patients clamour to call their doctors for help, despite advice to phone national helplines. The extra burden has led to concerns that other GP services may be put at risk as a result.

Health bosses hope the problem will ease soon with the promised introduction of a national pandemic flu service from the Department of Health.

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David Cocks, chief executive, TCN, said: “With heightened awareness around swine flu our call centre has been extremely busy.

“This has inevitably placed a strain on our operations.

“For those who are still concerned GPs can provide a diagnosis over the phone. However, the GP out-of-hours service is designed for urgent care when GP surgeries are closed.”

During this Saturday and Sunday 3,486 calls were taken at TCN's Ipswich-based call centre, which also provides cover for Great Yarmouth and parts of Cambridgeshire, up from 2,272 during the same weekend last year.

Dr David Kanka, deputy director of public health at NHS Suffolk, said: “We are aware that the current swine flu situation is putting a strain on our GP surgeries and out-of-hours care providers.

“We anticipate that the imminent launch of the national pandemic flu service will relieve some of this pressure.”

Meanwhile Ipswich Hospital is one section of the NHS that has not been overwhelmed by swine flu. The hospital said it had not had any cases of patients admitted because of swine flu, although it is holding daily meetings to assess the situation.

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 www.nhs.uk

- 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 www.suffolk.nhs.uk.


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