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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Don't panic over swine flu - let nature do its job

I'm a supposedly retired GP working locum sessions in Wiltshire. I have had direct experience of two previous flu epidemics.

The first was in 1957 at my boarding prep school when virtually every boy fell ill.

We all recovered without complications and we were cared for by dedicated school staff. I do not recall the doctor having to come at all. The school did not close.

The second was in 1968 when I was a medical student at the London Hospital.

This time round, the effect of a flu epidemic will be dramatically different - not because of the nature of the illness itself, but because of the expectations of patients and an NHS and Government that appear to be running scared. They are afraid of being seen to be unprepared, yet the publicity they have put out will generate anxiety and panic.

The pressure on the NHS will be quite unlike anything that has been seen before, and there is a real possibility that it might, to all intents and purposes, shut down under the weight of demand.

Contingency planning and the availability of antivirals are going to have very little effect on the longer-term outcome. People will die, as they do in any flu outbreak, but in all probability not very many. Common-sense advice to stay at home, go to bed and take appropriate home remedies will be sufficient for the great majority of us.

The individual GP will have very little impact on the process and outcome of the epidemic. As for myself, I am told that I am less likely to contract this flu virus because of my age.

And herein lies my dilemma: do I accede to the wishes, indeed the command, of the Government and the GMC who would recall me to work as a doctor, or to those of my children and grandchildren, who number 11 in all, who may fall ill and need to be cared for by me and my wife?

It seems to me that I could be of far more practical use to my family.

What is needed is not more nannying and pandering, but an acceptance that a few will indeed be very ill and a few will die. Those who are spared should attend to the purely practical necessities of the sick.

Nature surely intends a periodic weeding out. We may spend millions and exhaust ourselves attempting to challenge her objective. I think she will be quite undeterred.

From Dr H Tegner, Wiltshire

Swine flu masks

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