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Patients at third of practices suffer complications after swine flu misdiagnosis

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: More than a third of GP practices across the country have had patients suffer complications after being misdiagnosed with swine flu, a Pulse poll of more than 200 practices reveals.

37% of those surveyed said they were aware of patients who had suffered complications ranging from mild adverse reactions to Tamiflu to severe cases of tonsillitis, meningitis and pneumonia. Three of the 205 GPs and practice managers surveyed reported that one of their patients had died after being misdiagnosed.

91% of respondents called on the Government to review its policy of offering Tamiflu to all patients with swine flu symptoms. Earlier this month prescribing experts called for an urgent review of the NHS's use of Tamiflu, amid concerns that the public had been misled about the drug's effectiveness.

One GP, who asked not to be identified, said a patient had died from meningitis after being incorrectly diagnosed over the telephone, while practices in Dorset and Wiltshire also reported that one of their patients had died.

Another GP in Derbyshire said a three-year old girl had been diagnosed with swine flu and given Tamiflu by the National Pandemic Flu Service, but was subsequently diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia and admitted to hospital a few days later.

‘It was unlikely she ever had swine flu,' the GP told Pulse. ‘It is near-impossible to diagnose a febrile illness over the phone, and I am afraid one could miss meningitis or other serious illnesses by presuming it is swine flu.'

A GP in Tyne and Wear, said one of her patients first thought to have swine flu had subsequently been diagnosed with salmonella, and was admitted to hospital after becoming extremely dehydrated.

A range of lesser side-effects to antiviral treatment were also widely reported by GPs, including vomiting, diarrhoea and lethargy.

Dr Ellen Wright, a GP in Greenwich, south London, whose son contracted swine flu early in the first wave of the pandemic, said mild adverse reactions to antivirals had been widely reported.

‘There have been a lot of complications, especially in children given it in schools at the beginning of the outbreak, and I suspect that's what a lot of GPs have been seeing,' she said.

‘There's new evidence that shows that resistance in developing in the US and their Food and Drugs Administration is reviewing its policy. It's time for the Department of Health to review it too.'

Patients at one in three practices have suffered complications after they were misdiagnosed with swine flu Patients at one in three practices have suffered complications after they were misdiagnosed with swine flu Poll findings

37% of respondents said a patient at their practice had suffered complications after being misdiagnosed with swine flu

91% of respondents said the Government should review its policy of offering Tamiflu to all patients with swine flu symptoms

Source: Pulse poll of 205 GPs and practice managers, 16-18 September 2009

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