Monday, July 20, 2009

Swine flu helpline will open this week, the Health Secretary has announced

A National Pandemic Flu Service – including a telephone helpline – will be launched later this week in England, Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, has announced.

Mr Burnham said the service, which will also offer online help to take pressure off GPs and other front line health services, will be in operation by the end of the week "subject to testing".
He told the Commons it would be accompanied by a "major public information campaign" and, after the launch, people would no longer need to ring their GP.
"They can either answer questions online, via the new website, or ring the call centre service, where trained staff will be able to assess them over the phone."
He also confirmed plans for sufferers to enlist a "flu friend" to help get medication and food to them so they can remain in isolation.
Mr Burnham said vaccines would be available from August with enough for 30 million people by the end of the year.
In the face of claims of conflicting advice to pregnant women, he denied that the advice had changed since the start of the outbreak.
In a statement ahead of the parliamentary recess, Mr Burnham said that while the virus had spread quickly it had not become more dangerous.
"For the vast majority, swine flu remains a mild and self-limiting illness.
"Our advice to the public about dealing with it has not changed."
He said it was understandable people were becoming more concerned as cases rose and insisted all organisations had a role to play in providing "consistent and clear" advice.
Of the advice to pregnant women, Mr Burnham said this had not changed since the outbreak began.
The chief medical officer said most pregnant women with swine flu would only get mild symptoms but pregnancy brought a higher risk of complications.
Mothers to be were currently advised to continue "normal activities" such as going to work, travelling on public transport and attending events and family gatherings.
"But they are advised to take the following steps to reduce their risk of infection and complications."
These included "good hand hygiene", by frequent use of soap and water, avoiding contact with people known to have swine flu and making early contact with a GP if they suspected having the virus.
Mr Burnham said the latest figures for swine flu showed 55,000 new cases reported last week, with 652 in hospital, including 53 in critical care.
The virus had taken hold "around the country" rather than in "isolated pockets," with 110 primary care trusts reporting "exceptional levels" by July 15.
"The latest figures show nine out of 10 NHS regions are now showing exceptional levels of flu-like illness based on GP consultations."
The technology to launch the national pandemic flu service had been available for some time and the point had now been reached when it was required.
It would go live by the end of the week subject to testing.
If swine flu is confirmed through the service, sufferers would get an authorisation number, which their "flu friend" can use to pick up antiviral drugs from the local collection point.
The service would not be in operation this week in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because those parts of the UK had not seen the same "rate of spread" but they could opt in at a later date.
Mr Burnham said a range of "worst case scenarios" had been published but these were not predictions.
He urged all organisations to draw up plans to reduce the threat posed by swine flu to the economy.
Vaccine supplies should begin to be received from next month with enough becoming available for at least 30 million people by the end of the year.
"We want the vaccine available as soon as possible but we cannot compromise on safety."
Priority groups, like NHS staff, would be vaccinated first, as soon as officials "got the green light".
Promising to keep MPs updated during the summer recess, Mr Burnham said the civil contingencies committee would meet weekly and ministers would be in "close contact" to respond to emerging issues.
He said: "There is increasing pressure on services. But there is no change to the advice or Government plans.
"It is because we have planned carefully for this eventuality that we have large quantities of antivirals, a national pandemic flu service about to launch and a vaccine on the way."

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