NHS prepares for 65,000 deaths from swine flu

'Worst case scenario' projected by Chief Medical Officer 255,000 new cases as pandemic claims 29 lives

The NHS is planning for up to 65,000 deaths from swine flu, between three and 10 times the normal winter flu death rate, the Chief Medical Officer says.

The figure was a "reasonable worst case scenario", to allow the health service to put in place "robust" plans to deal with the pandemic's first wave, the full scale of which will not be known for months. It was not a prediction of what was expected to happen, Sir Liam Donaldson said yesterday.

"We cannot give an estimate of the likely deaths. It is far too early, and there are not enough cases on which to give even ballpark figures," he said.

The swine flu pandemic is growing exponentially with 55,000 new cases in the past week, twice the number in the previous week. There have been 29 deaths across the UK, up from 16 the previous week, and the number of people admitted to hospital because of the virus has doubled to 652. There was a "massive surge" in consultations with GPs last Monday and pressure on the NHS has become intense, Sir Liam said. In response, he announced the launch of the National Pandemic Flu Service, a dedicated internet and telephone helpline with 2,000 operators, to take the pressure off frontline medical staff.

Planning assumptions for the NHS, published yesterday, show that up to half of all children may eventually fall ill with swine flu. Although the virus is still mild in most people – and there is no sign yet that it is mutating – it is targeting younger people. The hospitalisation rate for the under-fives is four times that for other age groups.

Meanwhile a report published today warns that the UK's GDP could fall by 5% in the wake of the swine flu outbreak. The study, by Oxford Economics, said there was a significant risk that the economy would tip into deflation. This could generate a vicious cycle which postpones economic recovery for another couple of years, according to Channel 4 News.

Infection rates are expected to be lower in older people. This is one of two unusual features of the pandemic – that it is happening in summer and is worst in the young. Seasonal flu is normally worst in winter and targets the elderly.

Overall, the plans require the NHS to prepare for 30 per cent of the population, totalling 18 million people, to succumb to the illness over the coming winter. Up to 2 per cent could require treatment in hospital – amounting to 360,000 people – a quarter of whom may need intensive care "if it is available". The death rate could range from 0.1 per cent – 19,000 deaths – to 0.35 per cent, or 65,000 deaths. For comparison, there were 6,000 deaths from winter flu in 2002-03, mainly among the elderly.

The rise in cases in London levelled off last week, but it was still the area hardest hit, with "exceptional flu activity" across the capital.

To ease the pressure on GPs, the National Flu Pandemic Service, to be launched next week, would allow patients to self-diagnose swine flu from their symptoms on the internet, or by calling a dedicated telephone helpline.

Once diagnosed, patients will be a given a unique identification number and told where to collect their supply of anti-viral drugs, to be picked up by a "flu-friend", relative or neighbour, to avoid unnecessary spread of the virus. Asked if the internet service would be open to abuse by people eager to get their hands on the antiviral drugs, Sir Liam said: "There isn't a simple way round that. We have to put our trust in the public."

He warned that anyone who obtained drugs under false pretences, and later needed them for genuine reasons, would be identifiable by their code number and would face "a very uncomfortable discussion with their GP".

He was unable to say how many of the 29 deaths so far attributed to swine flu in the UK had underlying conditions. Results of the post-mortem examination of Chloe Buckley, the six-year-old from west London, who died last week are still awaited.

Last night it was reported that a six-year-old boy had died of swine flu in Kent and his school had been closed. Local health authorities refused to confirm details beyond saying they were investigating a swine flu case.

The plans say that the pandemic may unfold in a single wave or multiple waves, separated by periods when cases reduce. Some experts believe the pandemic will subside in August, after the schools close and people depart on holiday, and return in the autumn, peaking in October or later. But if the current soaring number of cases is sustained, up to 10 per cent of the population may be infected by the end of August. A pandemic vaccine is currently in production and first supplies are due in August with enough for half the population by the end of the year. However, it will be well into 2010 before the vaccine is available for the whole population. T

Yesterday, the US President Barack Obama earmarked $1.825bn (£1.11bn) in emergency funding to help fight the spread of swine flu. The money is part of $7.65bn already approved by Congress for use by the US Health Department.

High-profile victims: Cherie Blair cancels jobs

Cherie Blair has suspected swine flu, it emerged yesterday.

The wife of the former prime minister has pulled out of a series of public engagements because of the illness. It is understood she was identified as likely to have the virus on Tuesday. Tony Blair and the couple's children have not shown any signs of being infected.

Mrs Blair has been given a course of Tamiflu, and told to rest. The QC had been due to pick up an honorary degree at Liverpool's Hope University today, and also cancelled a staff barbecue to ensure the virus was not passed on.

Mrs Blair is one of several high-profile personalities to have drawn attention to the virus. It recently emerged that Harry Potter actor Rupert Grint had recovered after a mild case of the virus. His illness didn't hold up filming of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince but the actor said he had to be off set for a week.

Earlier this week boxer Ricky Hatton's publicist was quick to rule out swine flu after he was admitted to hospital in Manchester suffering from stomach cramps and vomiting.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

    £35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Owner

    £30 - 40k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product ...

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - £17,000 Basic, OTE Uncapped

    £17000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company are looking for a S...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line Technical Analyst

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 1st / 2nd Line Technical Anal...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate