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At the heart of general practice since 1960

GPs in swine flu hot spot tell of battle against virus

By Steve Nowottny

GPs at the centre of the biggest swine flu outbreak in Europe have told how they have been working round the clock to deal with hundreds of potential cases, as a stark picture emerges of the impact a pandemic will have across the profession.

The experience of GPs in Birmingham, where a school was hit by an outbreak and more than 80 cases detected, shows just how severe the impact will be if, as expected, swine flu continues to spread.

As Pulse went to press the Health Protection Agency said there had been 621 confirmed cases in the UK, with a further 523 under laboratory investigation – but experts warned the true figure could be double that.

Dr Fay Wilson, chair of this week's LMCs conference, has been spearheading operations in the city as medical director of the out-of-hours service, which has been transformed into a swine flu emergency team.

GPs from the service have been charged with swabbing suspected cases and distributing antivirals on behalf of local practices. Dr Wilson told Pulse: ‘We've done hundreds of swabs, hundreds of home visits, with 80 to 90 positives. On top of our ordinary out-of-hours we have set up three four-hour shifts a day, three swabbing teams in each. We are really, really busy.'

Dr Eleanor Mair Williams, a GP in Skewen, South Wales, has become the first in the UK to be confirmed with swine flu, which she is thought to have caught while on holiday in the US.

Some 21 of her close contacts, including four staff and 15 visitors at her surgery, have been offered antivirals as a precaution, although the surgery has remained open.

Meanwhile, Dr Ellen Wright, a GP in Greenwich, south London, said she and her husband, also a GP, had been told to carry on working after their son contracted swine flu last month.

‘We were told as long as you were asymptomatic you could carry on working, even if you were seeing patients,' she said. ‘My husband developed mild symptoms but they were not enough to merit swabbing, according to the HPA algorithm.'

Dr Brian McCloskey, director of HPA London, told Pulse he was unable to comment on individual cases, but said GPs who were close contacts of confirmed cases could keep working if they were symptom-free.

Dr Fay Wilson, medical director of Badger Dr Fay Wilson, medical director of Badger

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