Hotline to help nurses cope with flu epidemic

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A 24-hour hotline was set up yesterday to help to prevent hospitals being crippled by another flu epidemic this winter.

A 24-hour hotline was set up yesterday to help to prevent hospitals being crippled by another flu epidemic this winter.

Nurses will use the line, run by the Royal College of Nursing, to report areas where staff are under pressure and to seek advice on how to deploy resources more effectively.

Some hospitals have had to suspend admissions and close accident and emergency departments temporarily to cope with surges in demand.

The college said nurses often knew what measures were needed when hospitals were under pressure but had difficulty making their voice heard. The hotline would act as an "escape valve" for them and help with advice and support.

The college said: "In some cases things are happening on one ward and another ward in the same hospital is unaware of it, let alone other hospitals. We are being realistic about what we can do. NHS managers and the Government need to play their part."

Nurses will be asked to report when ideas for tackling problems are successful, so they can be spread to NHS trusts around the country.

The college says the solutions, available through the hotline, are "commonsense rather than rocket science". Some of the ideas that have already been implemented include a scheme at University Hospital, Lewisham, south London, in which nurses decide among themselves what shifts to work and fill out their roster themselves. They can also work staggered hours.

Christine Hancock, general secretary of the college, said: "Many of the solutions to the problems are already in place somewhere in the NHS, sometimes just down the corridor in another ward."

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