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NHS ready for swine flu surge

The NHS is preparing to deal with an expected surge in swine flu cases this winter by doubling its intensive care capacity.

All 10 regions of the NHS in England have confirmed they will be able to increase the number of severely ill adults and children requiring ventilation that they can treat, from 2,000 to more than 4,000.

The latest figures show a continuing decline in swine flu in England with an estimated 3,000 cases last week, the lowest level since the disease peaked in July.

But early signs of any upturn in the US and Scotland are being watched closely, said Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer. "I think we are tantalisingly close to being able to win the battle against this pandemic," he said.

Swine flu has proved mild in most cases around the world, but severe or life-threatening in a small minority of people. Experience from the southern hemisphere shows the biggest pressure on health systems has been on intensive care.

Ian Dalton, national director of pandemic flu resilience, said the plans included purchasing additional ventilators, training staff in critical care and temporarily postponing routine surgery. "If we get a surge [in swine flu cases] we will be in difficult clinical waters, like every other country," he said.

The Tories published figures last week showing that 3,000 people had to be discharged early from intensive care or transferred to other hospitals to find a bed last year.