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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The English disease

A friend of mine has been taken ill whilst on holiday in England. The hotel my friend was in tried to get a doctor to see her but because one of her symptoms was flu-like she was refused and told to ring the swine flu hotline.

She does not have swine flu but because she had no choice she rang it and was told to take tami-flu. Effectively she was told to take an inappropriate drug by a call centre operator who has had about half an hours training, has no medical qualifications or experience and was working from a tick sheet. It is farcical.

She was not well enough to to get to the nearest Accident and Emergency Centre, which in any case was an hour's drive away and even if she had wanted to take Tami-flu she could not do so because it is stored at the same place.

For all the genuine and justifiable concern about swine flu it is a fact that it has not yet reached the levels of previous flu epidemics such as that in 2000. And yet in England the Government have decided, against World Health Organisation guidelines, that the health service cannot cope with it and has passed responsibility for dishing out limited stocks of important medicine to a call centre.

I was mildly critical that the Welsh Health Minister did not sign up to this initiative at the time but on reflection she has been proved right. In Wales there are clear guidelines for anybody who suspects that they have swine flu but if they need to see a doctor they can and drugs are only issued by medical professionals. That is the way it should be.

It may well be that in due course the Welsh health service cannot cope and when that point arrives we will have to resort to other measures but that has not happened yet and nor should it have done in England. The methods they have adopted could lead to inappropriate treatment being made available to somebody who is ill whilst others, like my friend are denied treatment altogether.

I am astonished that English Ministers have taken this course of action. It is almost as if they panicked and opted for a call centre to make it look as if they are doing something. Policy driven by the demands of the media rather than by the evidence and the facts.
Spot on - Tamiflu isn't a miracle cure and, even though it's not a vaccine but rather a neurominidase inhibitor that blocks the neurominidase protein to reduce infectiveness, there's still a real chance that widespread uncontrolled use will lead to resistant strains evolving.

That means when Avian flu hits and, let's face it, that's going to show us what an influenze epidemic really looks like, we'll probably have one less treatment in the arsenal to fight it.
Thanks for highlighting this Peter, BMA Cymru Wales raised this same issue of the National Pandemic flu hotline and Wales' opting out of it last month - read BMA Cymru Wales' blog post on it here -
Its a good excuse for passing people on though.No less that four of my friends in England have been told they have "Swine flu" and been told to get Tamiflu. None have and all are sure that what they had was either ordinary flu,a summer cold or sinusitis.
Make you wonder if the theory that the NHS has to use up its huge stocks of Tamiflu and not be left with stockpiles and criticism for over stocking, has a grain of truth
i understand exactly what you are saying, but swine flu is not english! its only in the uk because there are people always in and out of the country.
You have clearly missed what I am saying. I am not arguing that swine flu is an English disease but that the Government's incompetence in dealing with is the English disease.
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