Swine flu deaths total jumps to 29

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Twenty-nine people have now died in the UK after contracting swine flu, the Government announced today.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said there had been 26 deaths in England and three in Scotland. The official total was given as 17 on Monday, up from 14 last Friday.



The latest announcement comes after GPs criticised the Government's response to the flu pandemic, accusing it of giving conflicting advice to doctors and patients.



The latest death in Scotland was a female tourist. The Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Surgeon said the woman, who had "significant underlying medical conditions" died at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness yesterday evening. The patient was admitted to the hospital more than three weeks ago.



Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, published figures today on the possible number of people who could die as a result of the current pandemic.

The figures are being used by the NHS to help plan its services.

If 30 per cent of the population get swine flu, the death rate could be as high as 65,000 people.

However, estimates range from 3,000 up to 750,000 people.

Sir Liam announced new details today of the National Pandemic Flu Service for England, which should be up and running towards the end of next week.

This telephone and internet-based service will enable people to get a diagnosis of swine flu, obtain a unique reference number, and gain access to Tamiflu.

People will be diagnosed over the telephone or can follow a questionnaire on the internet which will give them a diagnosis.

A "flu friend" can then obtain the antiviral for a sick person from a depot around the country using the unique reference number.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have not yet implemented such a service but could do so in the future.

Sir Liam said new figures released today showed "exceptional influenza activity" in terms of the number of people visiting their GP across most of the country except Yorkshire and the Humber.

People living in Tower Hamlets in east London are visiting their GP most often, with 759 consultations per 100,000 people about flu-like illness.

Other badly affected areas of London include Hackney in the east, Islington in the north and Lewisham in the south.

"Some of these will have the worried well among them," Sir Liam said, adding that not all of these consultations would involve people with actual swine flu.

New figures on the number of people being hospitalised in England show that the numbers have doubled in one week, with 652 people now in hospital, of which 53 are in intensive care.

The highest number of hospitalisations are among people aged 16 to 64, with 354 cases, followed by under fives, with 134 cases and those aged five to 15, with 84 cases.

Sir Liam said the aim of the new flu service was to alleviate pressure on hospitals and GP services, allowing them to look after the "most seriously ill".

He added: "We are not saying everybody has to do this and we are keeping the normal routes of access to GPs open."

He added that the profile of the virus had not changed, meaning it was not becoming more virulent, and that most people were still experiencing mild symptoms.

The new flu service will be staffed by about 2,000 people in call centres and a single number for people to ring will be released shortly.

Sir Liam said the Government was trusting the public not to abuse the new service, which does not require them to visit a GP in order to collect Tamiflu.

"Trust comes into it in a big way," he said. "We do trust the public, we will be saying that it's not advisable to take the drugs if you don't need them because obviously all drugs have side effects."

People will need to give their name and address to obtain their unique reference number and will be "viewed with a jaundiced eye" if they ask for more than one.

However, anyone who obtains a number but then finds themselves poorly again a few weeks later will of course be able to visit their GP, he said.

On the issue of vaccines, Sir Liam said the first deliveries in August would not be enough to cover everybody in the high risk groups.

But everybody would be able to get a vaccine as winter progressed.







The figures were released as the Royal College of GPs criticised aspects of the Government's handling of the swine flu epidemic.

The GPs' professional body, which is collecting feedback from family doctors on issues arising from the current outbreak, said 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 past 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 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".

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.

It also found guidance on the protection of pregnant healthcare workers that might come into contact with possible swine flu patients was "not very clear" and added some doctors do not know when they should advise their patients to come out of isolation following an episode of H1N1 flu.

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.

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

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "It is very disturbing that such a reputable body has openly challenged the Government's handling of the swine flu epidemic.

"It now appears that the Government is failing to provide any kind of clear and consistent advice to GPs.

"The Government's complete failure to get the flu line up and running has only added to the pressure on frontline staff.

"Ministers should meet urgently with the Royal College of GPs to make sure everyone is clear about their responsibilities in keeping this epidemic under control."

Figures from recent days also show a surge in the number of people calling NHS Direct.

On Sunday, the service received 26,953 calls, of which 6,363 callers asked to be diverted to the 0800 swine flu information recorded message. The remaining 20,590 callers wanted to speak to an adviser, hear other self care recorded information or data protection advice.

The numbers rose steadily on Tuesday and, on Wednesday, NHS Direct received 47,701 calls. Of these, 15,767 callers asked to be diverted to the 0800 swine flu information recorded message.

Nick Chapman, chief executive of NHS Direct, said: "We are dealing with a significantly increased number of calls and have longer call lengths as, in some cases, we are assessing whole families.

"We are prioritising urgent calls so that people most in need are assessed as quickly as possible and urgent calls are being dealt with in less than 20 minutes."

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