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Half of GPs unable to access swabs, antivirals and face masks

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: Thousands of GPs across the country are struggling to access the swabs, antivirals and face masks essential to cope with the swine flu outbreak, Pulse can reveal.

57% of GPs are reporting unsatisfactory access to the nose and throat swabs necessary to test patients for the H1N1 virus, while 46% said they were not able to access antivirals needed to treat any cases.

45% said they had no access to face masks to protect them and their staff as they prepare to test and treat further potential cases.

The findings from Pulse's survey of 180 GPs comes amid mounting evidence that practices are still unprepared for a possible pandemic - and despite Health Secretary Alan Johnson's insistence that the UK is among the best-prepared countries in the world.

GPs in some areas, including Birmingham and Sefton in Liverpool, have even been told they must buy their own masks and protective clothing.

Dr Fay Wilson, a GP in Birmingham, told Pulse there had been widespread confusion over the provision of supplies.

‘We do not have any supplies of masks, swabs, culture media, aprons or anything,' she said.

‘We have asked the PCTs but they don't have any either. The PCT doesn't know where we can get them from, and is spending most of their time in meetings.'

‘If we get to a point where there are a lot of people with the disease, then we will need supplies of things and I am hoping they are working on it.'

Dr Andrew Mimnagh, chair of Sefton LMC, said GPs were angered after being told they should obtain their own supplies of surgical masks, gloves, aprons and alcohol rub, and said national guidance had promised that masks would be supplied centrally.

'I am sure this national document has led practices to refrain from stocking up on masks,' he said.

GPs are reporting difficulties accessing swabs, face masks and antivirals GPs are reporting difficulties accessing swabs, face masks and antivirals

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