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Mixture of confusion and support for GPs at swine flu coalface

By Gareth Iacobucci

For some, it was business as usual. For other GPs this was the week the nation's defences against a potential flu pandemic were tested and found wanting.

As Pulse went to press, there had been 28 confirmed cases of swine flu in the UK, another 333 suspected, and a wide variety of experiences from GPs at the coalface.

A picture of confusion emerged in some areas. Dr Gregor McEwan, a GP in Clapham, south-west London, and one of the first to have to deal with a suspected case, claimed he had been left to investigate without adequate local advice or access to antivirals.

Dr McEwan told Pulse last week: ‘I am supposed to give this woman a prescription for Tamiflu but I know for a fact she won't be able to find any pharmacist in Clapham who has it – I've already called.

‘Other than the most basic hygiene measures, I have nothing I can use for infection control. We have no facemasks because there are none available, no prophylactic antivirals because we are not entitled.

‘When I asked the Health Protection Unit should I keep seeing patients, they said yes. I asked them "what should I tell my patients?" and they said "don't tell them anything".'

Dr Rachel Heathcock, director of the Health Protection Agency's South East London HPU, claimed Dr McEwan had been given lengthy support and said she was ‘disappointed by his claims'.

But reports of problems were not confined to London.

Dr Fay Wilson, a GP in Birmingham, another city at the centre of the outbreak, said there had been confusion over access to vital equipment: ‘We do not have enough supplies of masks, swabs, aprons or anything.'

For Dr Peter Moore, a GP in Torbay, Devon, who works less than five miles from a school closed down after a 12-year-old girl was infected with swine flu, lack of communication from his PCT was a major concern. Dr Moore said he had heard ‘nothing at all' after the outbreak was confirmed during Prime Minister's question time.

But others were far happier with how NHS managers responded. Dr George Rae, secretary of Newcastle and North Tyneside LMC, said there was ‘no sense of disarray' despite a confirmed case in Newcastle.

Dr Asad Mubarik, a GP in Halifax, reported ‘excellent' information in his area.

Dr Anu Bhatia, a GP in Dulwich, south-east London, where five pupils at nearby Alleyn's school tested positive, said while the outbreak had piled pressure on GPs, the PCT had so far been on top of the situation.

‘There's been myself and the duty doctor almost purely dealing with swine flu. It's a lot of pressure – but we managed to get lots of swabs and lots of Tamiflu.'

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