Sunday, July 12

H1N1/swine flu: And now for a little mayhem from the United Kingdom

If the following is not enough to worry you, try this one on: According to the latest research BE WARNED you might DIE more readily from a serious swine flu infection if you're FAT. Put down that cheeseburger, she said, opening a bag of potato chips.

Remember to take the estimate of 100K/day infections and 40/day deaths with an exponential grain of salt but there's no question they're heading toward an epidemic across the Pond, if they haven't already arrived. From the (U.K.) Telegraph (H/T Doc Jim). Note the recorded message the National Health Service prepared:
Swine flu: Routine operations must be put on hold so that the [National Health Service] can cope with the swine flu crisis, doctors' leaders have warned.

By David Harrison and Patrick Sawer
Published: 9:00PM BST 11 Jul 2009

Dr Peter Holden, a member of the British Medical Association's general practitioners committee, said that the Government should implement emergency plans to deal with a swine flu pandemic "with immediate effect".

"The Government must push the button now" he said. "Forward planning is vital. We will have to forget about hitting targets for waiting lists.

"Routine operations and preventive treatment will have to take second place."

Dr Holden, who played a key role in drawing up the contingency plans, said the [National Health Service] workforce should be allowed to concentrate on getting ready for a "second wave" of swine flu.

He said the NHS was already under strain and the workload for GPs and other NHS staff in the worst-hit areas was becoming "unsustainable".

"We do not want the troops to be exhausted before the start of what could be a very significant stage in the campaign," he said.
Exhaustion could be the least of the problem:
Health workers may flee in pandemic panic

by Rachel Nowak
June 3, 2009
New Scientist

Healthcare workers will desert their posts in droves in a pandemic, unless the safety and psychological issues they face are addressed. So say surveys of doctors, nurses and other staff, such as lab techs, secretaries and porters, from around the world.

The worst predictions are for the UK, where as few as 15 per cent of workers would show up in a pandemic [citation].

Elsewhere, the figures are better but still worrying. Two Australian surveys suggest that 60 to 80 per cent of workers would go to work [citation]. Studies in Hong Kong and the US predict an 85 and 50 per cent turnout respectively. [...]
To return to the Telegraph report:
Dr Holden was speaking after the death toll from the virus rose to 15 when a middle-aged man died after nine days in hospital in Basildon, Essex. It was the first death in the UK of someone without underlying health problems.

More than 9,700 people in the UK are known to have caught the disease, but the real figure is believed to be much higher.

The Government has warned that the number of swine flu cases could soar to 100,000 a day by the end of next month and estimated that the virus could eventually affect up to 50 per cent of the population.

Dr Holden said a "sense of urgency" was needed, with the virus spreading fast and many key NHS staff soon to go on holiday.

Earlier this year the UK was hailed as the western European country best prepared to deal with a pandemic.

The GP said: "That is probably still the case, but these plans now need to translate into action otherwise they are pointless."

The doctor, who has a surgery in Matlock, Derbyshire, said that swine flu could kill 40 people a day by the end of summer.

The virus was accelerating and a "second wave" was likely after schools go back in September.

"The number of cases is rising rapidly and it could get really nasty," he said. "Forty deaths a day is a plausible figure. When this hits us it will be all hands to the pump, and we need to prepare for that now."

Dr Holden said that pregnant woman and asthmatics were emerging as the most at risk from the virus. Previously, experts had said that diabetics were the most vulnerable group.

"The statistics are too small for us to be sure but that is the trend," he said.

He condemned as "mad" suggestions that people should go to "flu parties" in the hope that they would catch a mild form of the virus and be immune from more virulent forms later.

The GP said that ministers should allow workers to to sign themselves off for two weeks without a doctor's note – rather than the usual one week – if they think they have swine flu.

Ministers are considering the proposal, although there are fears that the change would leave the system open to abuse.

Britain's swine flu caseload is the third highest behind the United States, where 33,000 people have caught the disease, and Mexico, where the disease started, where the figure is 10,000.

In London and the West Midlands the virus is approaching epidemic proportions.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, said the death in Basildon, announced on Friday, "underlines that, although the virus is proving generally mild in most people, it is more severe in some cases".

Patients who fear they have swine flu are waiting for 10 hours or more before a nurse from the NHS Direct helpline contacts them to discuss their symptoms.

The helpline has been inundated with calls from people who fear they may have contracted the disease, with use of NHS Direct running at "unprecedented" levels, according to the organisation.

Over half of all calls to the helpline are now about swine flu, with the number of people contacting it rising to 7,000 a day in the past week.

Up to 70,000 people a day are using its online flu symptoms checker in a bid to determine whether they may have contracted the disease.

One health writer, Alison Moore, reported in Nursing Times that she was told by NHS Direct it would be 10 hours before a nurse contacted her about her 12-year-old daughter's symptoms. In fact nobody rang back.

Other people have posted messages on Twitter about the long delays they have experienced.

Kerry McCay wrote: "I rang bout my husband yesterday at 2.30pm and rcvd a callback at 12.30am – 10hr wait and woke the whole house up! Not great!"

NHS Direct replied: "Sorry to hear that Kerry. We're a 24 hour service and our staff are working around the clock to deal with the swine flu alert."

Another Twitter user, PrincessNikki22, wrote: "I suspect my boyfriend and I might have swine flu, tried to call earlier, on hold for 17 mins then got disconnected! Just answer!"

NHS Direct has dealt with 162,000 calls about swine flu since the outbreak began in April.

A recorded message told callers yesterday: "We are extremely busy because of swine flu and are only dealing with patients who are very unwell. Only stay on the line if you have urgent problems."

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