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Swine flu phone line hurried out as part of latest pandemic plans

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Government has hurriedly announced plans for a ‘junior' version of the national flu line to pre-empt a possible escalation of the swine flu outbreak, after admitting that the full system will not be ready until October.

Health secretary Alan Johnson said the temporary response system would allow symptoms to be assessed more quickly, and for treatment to start within 48 hours of symptoms developing – thus taking some of the heat off GPs and A&E departments.

The Government has also ordered an additional 227 million surgical facemasks and 34 million respirators for NHS staff, following widespread complaints from GPs that they were being left to examine patients without adequate protection.

Speaking on the day that the total number of confirmed cases in the UK rose to 34, Mr Johnson said arrangements for the temporary flu line – including assessment of possible cases, collection of medicines, web access and the potential for phone services, would be co-ordinated at a local level with PCTs.

Non-healthcare professionals are to be roped in to help staff the service, reneging on original proposals - which stipulated the system would only be manned by healthcare professionals.

He said: ‘The interim arrangements we are putting in place will mean that people with symptoms can be assessed quickly, and antivirals made available so that they can start treatment within 48 hours of symptoms developing.

‘We think we can get a system out that will look very similar. We'll need non-healthcare professionals involved as well as healthcare professionals. It will be like a junior version of flu-line.'

The Health Secretary also announced that the Government had increased stocks of antivirals to cover 80 per cent of the population, and had increased its stockpiles of antibiotics to cover 30 per cent of the population by September.

He also revealed that the Government would ditch its strategy of providing antivirals prophylactically once the virus becomes more established, due to risks of depleting antiviral stockpiles, and the possibility that a ‘resistant strain of the virus' could develop.

He said: ‘We will need to consider moving beyond the current strategy of containment, where antivirals are provided to all contacts, to a strategy of mitigation. At that point, we will need to take a view on how best to use our stock of antivirals to treat and limit the spread of illness.'

Fay Wilson with mask

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