NHS swamped by flu calls

PANIC calls from worried patients about swine flu are swamping the NHS in East Anglia, it emerged last night.New predictions suggest up to 275,000 could be affected by the pandemic in Norfolk and 1,500 admitted to hospital in the coming months.

PANIC calls from worried patients about swine flu are swamping the NHS in East Anglia, it emerged last night.

New predictions suggest up to 275,000 could be affected by the pandemic in Norfolk and 1,500 admitted to hospital in the coming months. So far, about 1,000 people have been treated with Tamiflu in Norfolk and many more are likely to have been affected.

It comes as four key players in the fight against the virus in the county announced they were leaving NHS Norfolk - including the county's director of public health, Dr John Battersby.

Their departures in early autumn could coincide with the start of a second and possibly larger outbreak of swine flu when the weather gets colder.

Eight patients with swine flu have been admitted in the past week at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, all suffering from other health problems too.

There have been no deaths.

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Surgeries and hospitals in East Anglia have been overwhelmed by calls from worried people.

Staff at the N&N have said they need a national flu helpline to take the pressure off them. There is a national recorded information line, but not yet a dedicated helpline which allows people to ask questions, and there have been delays getting through to NHS Direct.

Christine Baxter, N&N director of nursing, said: “We have had a lot of telephone calls, particularly about children, but adults as well. A lot of people are obviously concerned. It would help enormously if the national helpline was up and running.”

Richard Humphries, spokesman for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, said: “Our children's ward has been inundated with people asking for further information. We've put a recorded message on the ward's extension which directs worried parents to their own GP or NHS Direct and advises them not to visit the hospital if they think they have flu symptoms.”

Ian Hume, chairman of Norfolk's local medical committee and a GP in Diss, said: “There are lot of calls coming through. We have certainly had many more calls today. Our general advice is to call the national information line or NHS Direct, though we have had people coming back to us because of problems getting through to NHS Direct.”

But there are also mixed messages, with a Department of Health spokesman yesterday recommending that people who think they have swine flu call NHS Direct first. The spokesman said: “There is a swine flu line being set up. It will be up and running at the end of next week, subject to checks.”

Surgeries and hospitals are being inundated with calls from worried patients and parents about swine flu, and some patients have had trouble getting hold of antiviral drugs, with just six collection points in Norfolk.

People calling NHS Direct have also had to wait longer than usual to get advice.

The departure of Dr Battersby coincides with that of the chairman of its clinical executive, as well as two other senior staff.

Dr Battersby, director of public health for both NHS Norfolk and Norfolk County Council, will be leaving in September. He has been in the post since October 2006 when the trust was formed and was previously at the former Southern Norfolk Primary Care Trust (PCT). He is moving to become assistant director at the East of England Public Health Observatory in Cambridge.

Leaving at around the same time will be John Sampson, chairman of the clinical executive committee, who has been in charge of setting the clinical direction for the organisation. He is going back to full-time work as a GP.

Also leaving is Louise Browning, assistant director of planned care, who is going in September to “pursue other career opportunities”. Fiona Reynolds, assistant director of commissioning for primary care, leaves at the end of August to develop a career in private consultancy and spend more time with her family.

Chief executive Julie Garbutt said: “There is a full professional team in place at NHS Norfolk that will continue to effectively lead the management of swine flu in the county, when John leaves the organisation.

“In an organisation of our size it is entirely to be expected that, over time, we will have people at all levels leaving to pursue new career interests and new employees joining. Recruitment plans are already being developed to ensure that NHS Norfolk has the skills and capacity to take forward the implementation of our ambitious plans.”

Dr Sampson's job has been advertised this week at a salary of �80,000.

- If you think you have swine flu, use the symptom checker at www.nhs.uk, or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or the swine flu information line on 0800 1 513513. If you have symptoms and are pregnant, over 65, have a long-term condition such as asthma or diabetes or have a child under five, you should phone your GP. Do not go to your surgery or hospital unless told to.