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GPs reeling as RCGP draws up damning dossier of swine flu chaos

By Lilian Anekwe

Exclusive: GPs have been left reeling from a huge explosion in swine flu workload and the first death of a colleague, as the profession's leaders launched a furious attack on the Government's handling of the crisis.

Practices in London – one of the major hotspots – are coping with 40 extra consultations a day, while across the country consultations for flu-like symptoms have soared eight-fold in just four weeks.

Pulse can reveal the RCGP has submitted a damning dossier to a House of Lords investigation into how the Government has managed swine flu, claiming GPs across the country have been left exposed to chaos, with conflicting advice on how to administer antiviral treatment.

GPs have inundated the college with concerns over the lack of planning and reliable guidance they are getting, warning of:

•Poor communication, with vital information not cascaded down to PCTs or GPs, and ‘conflicting advice' being given, including amendments to the procedure for obtaining Tamiflu

•Out-of-hours providers swamped by an ‘unsustainable' workload and warnings that other serious medical conditions are being missed

•Anxiety among pregnant doctors over whether to continue working, with no clear advice from the Government

•Lack of clarity about isolation periods following infection, and confusion around how long health workers need to stay off work.

To complicate the situation on the ground, HPA figures show only 28% of flu-like consultations are for genuine, virologically-confirmed cases of swine flu, prompting some GP leaders to accuse ministers of heightening public fear over the outbreak.

Speaking before the death of Bedfordshire GP Dr Michael Day, Dr Sam Everington, a GP in Tower Hamlets, east London, and a former primary care adviser to Lord Darzi, told Pulse the Department of Health's ‘scaremongering' had led to ‘utter chaos' for practices in London and the West Midlands – where the number of cases is rapidly approaching epidemic levels.

‘All this is being ratcheted up by the chief medical officer and the Government. They are actively scaremongering. The approach has been taking clinicians away from more serious problems and causing great fear. I challenge anyone in the Government to come out and say this is worse than ordinary winter flu. It's clearly not.'

Dr Michelle Drage, joint chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, echoed Dr Everington's stinging attack, adding: ‘There's a hugely disproportionate response, which is causing GPs severe problems in hotspot areas. If the correct message had been given out to patients and a correct communications strategy to the public, I don't think practices would be flooded with demand.'

But when quizzed by Pulse, chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson denied the Government's response had been disproportionate, and insisted the number of recorded cases so far was the ‘tip of the iceberg'.

He said: ‘I don't think it's fair to accuse us of scaremongering. I would rather be accused of an over-proportionate response and worrying too much than being too cavalier.'

The DH is in negotiations with the GPC about how to implement the swine flu vaccine programme, due in the autumn.

As Pulse went to press, 17 people in the UK had died from swine flu, including an Essex man with apparently no underlying health problems.

First GP swine flu death shocks colleagues

Swine flu has claimed its first GP victim. Bedfordshire GP Dr Michael Day died on Saturday and a swab taken at the hospital was subsequently confirmed as being positive for the H1N1 virus.

Dr Paul Hassan, senior partner at the Priory Gardens Health Centre, Dunstable, said the news was ‘a shock to us all and we are completely devastated'.

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman said: ‘Doctors have always accepted that there are risks associated with their job. Obviously these are smaller than they used to be with the advent of modern medicine, but they can never be eliminated altogether.'

RCGP chair Professor Steve Field said Dr Day's death was a ‘huge loss to his family and profession'.

GP leaders have launched a stinging attack on the Government's handling of the swine flu crisis GP leaders have launched a stinging attack on the Government's handling of the swine flu crisis

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