GPs have criticised the Government's response to the flu pandemic, accusing it of providing conflicting advice to both doctors and patients.



The Royal College of GPs is collecting feedback from family doctors on issues arising from the current outbreak, which has been linked to 17 deaths in the UK so far.

GPs have complained of poor out-of-hours planning, confusion over prescribing the antiviral drug Tamiflu and a lack of knowledge over how long patients should stay at home if they have the virus.

It comes after GPs saw a leap of almost 50 per cent in the last week in the numbers of people contacting them with fears they have swine flu.

Around 40,000 people a week in England and Wales are now complaining to their doctor of "flu-like illness", with a huge rise in the number of young children being affected.

The figures, from the Royal College of GPs' monitoring system, showed 50.3 people per 100,000 were reporting flu-like illness between June 29 and July 5.

But this leapt 46 per cent to 73.4 people per 100,000 between July 6 and 12.

In a submission to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, the College said it had an "excellent working relationship" with the Government's chief flu adviser, Ian Dalton, and was "very pleased" with the responsiveness of health officials.

But it said issues were arising via feedback from GPs, including a "lack of information and conflicting advice" from both the Government and primary care trusts (PCTs).

Changes to the procedure for obtaining Tamiflu - such as patients obtaining the drugs from a flu centre rather than a GP surgery - "were not cascaded down to PCTs/GPs".

The written evidence said: "Family doctors also noted that conflicting advice was being provided by different agencies.

"Some GPs raised concerns about the lack of support provided by their PCTs, such as no action plan to help primary care respond to the outbreak."

Some out of hours doctors have complained that they are not being seen as the "major player in the flu plan operationally in their area".

"They reported that they had received poor and inconsistent communication, including lengthy and verbose documents that were unworkable operationally."

There was also anxiety among GPs about a lack of protective clothing and whether they should take Tamiflu preventatively with the aim of trying to protect their own families.

"Concerned family doctors have also been in contact seeking the latest recommendations on the protection of pregnant healthcare workers that might come into contact with possible swine flu patients. It appears guidance on this issue is not very clear.

"Family doctors have also informed the RCGP that they do not know when they should advise their patients to come out of isolation following an episode of H1N1 flu.

"In addition, there seems to be confusion around how long health workers need to stay off work following a presumed flu diagnosis."

Yesterday's weekly flu report from the College said flu was evident in all age groups "but remains highest in five to 14 age groups."

The study said the highest number of cases was being seen in central England but the North had seen "a marked increase compared to previous weeks".

There has been a small decrease in the number of cases being seen in London although the capital remains a major hot spot for the virus.

The rate of influenza-like illness is highest among those aged five to 14, at 159.57 per 100,000 population.

The next most affected group is youngsters and babies aged up to four, at 114.12 per 100,00 population.

This is followed by people aged 15 to 44, those aged 45 to 64 and then people aged 65 and over.

The Government has insisted that the swine flu vaccine should begin arriving at the end of August, amid fears of a delay before people receive jabs.

The UK is in line to get around 60 million doses of the vaccine - enough to cover half the population - by the end of December, with the rest of the doses following next year.

The first batches are expected in August and the Government has drawn up a priority list of people to receive the jab.

However, there is expected to be some delay between when the manufacturers, Baxter and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), deliver the supplies and people receive their first vaccinations.

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