(A Preview Of “Obama Care”)…NHS Direct ‘at breaking point': Patients waiting two days for help in worst flu outbreak for ten years
By Louise Eccles and Sophie Borland
22nd December 2010
The NHS Direct helpline is at ‘breaking point’ as parts of Britain experience the worst flu outbreak in a decade.
Patients calling the service are being forced to wait up to two days before they can speak to a nurse, and managers have launched an emergency recruitment drive.
GPs in the worst-affected areas are being paid up to £188 an hour to work over Christmas and help deal with soaring numbers of cases
Infection rates have doubled over the last week and more than 300 patients are fighting for their lives in intensive care, the vast majority suffering from swine flu.
But despite the growing crisis, ministers and leading doctors insist the outbreak is ‘no worse than usual’.
Earlier this week Health Secretary Andrew Lansley told a Cabinet meeting that although figures were slightly up on last year, they were no higher compared with two years ago.
Dame Sally Davies, the interim Chief Medical Officer, has repeatedly insisted that the illness is ‘just winter flu’. Yet doctors in some parts of the country including Leicester and the East Midlands warn they are seeing the worst outbreak in ten years.
There are three strains of flu circulating this winter – swine flu or H1N1, influenza B and H2N3.
Experts say swine flu is far more prevalent than the other two strains, and is proving more deadly. So far this winter there have been 17 confirmed flu deaths, and 14 of the victims had swine flu.
The latest infection rate figures show that there are now 87.1 cases per 100,000 people, up from 32.8 per 100,000 last week.
Children aged five to 14 are the worst affected, followed by those under four, according to the Royal College of GPs.