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Senior GP at centre of swine flu outbreak describes 'huge pressure'

By Steve Nowottny

A leading GP whose practice is at the centre of the swine flu outbreak in south London has told how she helped deal with hundreds of anxious patients who feared they had been infected.

Dr Clare Gerada, RCGP vice chair and a GP in south-west London, was contacted by her PCT medical director on Monday after six pupils at Alleyn's School in Dulwich were confirmed to have contracted the virus.

She said: 'Within two hours we had called all 15 of our partners back from wherever they were in the country to help at Alleyn's school and run the out of hours centre.

The normal rate of calls is about 30 an hour, but when I was there it was 300 calls. Thanks to our networks, we were able to recruit enough GPs and respond to patient fears.

GPs performed incredibly well under huge pressure. We dealt with 700 anxious families, answered hundreds of calls and worked with health authorities to update their advice. All of this on a bank holiday, too.

Thankfully the RCGP has prepared as well with fantastic briefings and FAQs which really helped when swabbing patients (GPs need to wear masks as well!) but clearly some things didn't go so well and we need to learn from this.

Despite the numbers of doctors we were able to recruit at short notice – there weren't enough. Also, our PCTs did not hold details of doctors, nurses, pharmacist and Healthcare Assistants' telephone numbers – and they must do.

Our telephonic system couldn't meet the demand and we urgently need to think about using more modern technology e.g. social networking sites to disseminate information to the worried public.

We need to learn that in the eye of the storm things don't always go to plan.

Finally it wasn't Tamiflu and facemasks we ran out of, it was phone lines, people, cars and rooms.'

RCGP vice chair Dr Clare Gerada RCGP vice chair Dr Clare Gerada

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