Swine flu surge leaves 15 dead and 100 in intensive care

Fifteen patients have died and more than 100 patients are in intensive care with suspected swine flu as doctors warned that the disease is turning out to be more severe than last year.

Intensive care specialists said that the NHS was under greater pressure than 12 months ago. There has been a surge of cases admitted to hospital in the last 10 days and in the North-west the numbers are above those at the peak of last year's pandemic.

Five deaths were reported in the North-west yesterday, including that of Kay Burdett, a 32-year-old mother-of-two from Liverpool, who had received hospital treatment for asthma.

In the North-east, the situation is "as bad as or worse than" at the peak last year, according to public health specialists. Most of those affected are aged 18-35, including pregnant women, the obese and those with chronic health problems.

Ten of the worst affected patients whose lungs have given out, including three pregnant women, are being treated on Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines. A further six critically ill patients are waiting for spaces on the machines to become available. Extra beds have been opened in four hospitals at Papworth in Huntingdonshire, the Royal Brompton in London, Newcastle Upon Tyne NHS trust and University Hospitals of South Manchester, in addition to the existing unit at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester.

Last year only Papworth and the Royal Brompton were opened.

The numbers of severely ill patients have taken specialists by surprise because monitoring suggests low levels of swine flu in the community.

There have been an unconfirmed reports of 17 flu deaths in the UK not including Scotland – 15 of which are associated with H1N1 swine flu.

Bob Winter, president of the Intensive Care Society and a consultant in Nottingham, said: "Something different is happening this year. The last 10 days have seen a sudden surge of activity. The numbers in intensive care are increasing across the UK. In the north west they are more than at the peak of the pandemic.

"We have told the Department of Health that this is emerging as a serious issue. We suggested the groups convened last year for swine flu critical care planning should be reconvened. The disease seems disproportionately severe."

Richard Firmin, director of the the UK's main ECMO centre at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, with five beds, said: "It is very busy, even busier than last year. The way we are headed we are not sure we will have enough capacity. We have 15 beds open altogether – we didn't need more than 12 last year. We have pretty much activated all those who can do it.

"No one was expecting it to be worse this year than last year."

ECMO is a highly-skilled technique requiring twice the number of nurses of an intensive care bed. Nurses must be specially trained and that "cannot be done in a week", Dr Firmin said.

"We have already had to escalate [provision of ECMO beds] two steps beyond what we had last year. Things are at least as bad as they were last year in intensive care generally, as well as ECMO. What we don't know is whether this is the peak or there is worse to come. Our feeling is it is probably going to get worse. If it gets a lot worse we could be in a lot of difficulty."

Last year the NHS had narrowly avoided having to restrict hospitals to emergency-only surgery in order to keep enough intensive care beds open for swine flu patients, but that may be unavoidable this year, Mr Firmin said. "The signs are that we are heading that way – keeping emergency ITU beds available when needed [for swine flu patients]. No one has declared so far but it is having an impact."

NHS Chief Executive Sir David Nicholson said: "There is always more pressure at this time of year. But the NHS is well-prepared."

A spokesperson for the Health Protection Agency said it was updating the number of deaths on a weekly basis and was monitoring the situation carefully.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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

    Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee