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Swine flu - you ain't seen nothing yet

If you thought it had been tough so far, just wait until we get the 100,000 cases a day the Government is now predicting

By Richard Hoey

If you thought it had been tough so far, just wait until we get the 100,000 cases a day the Government is now predicting


OK, so swine flu has just gone nuclear. All our fiddling around with the odd hundred or so cases here and another few dozen there suddenly seems like small beer indeed.

Health secretary Andy Burnham now reckons we could be seeing as many as 100,000 new cases every day, and no, my finger didn't get stuck on the 0 key.

It's a good job that this is such a peculiarly mild flu virus, so far at least, because otherwise we could be expecting a serious surge in death rates.

Normally 0.1% is about as low as the death rates for a flu virus get, but this one looks to be killing not many more than 0.01% in the US so far.

Even that would mean 10 or so deaths a day from swine flu if translated to the UK, assuming the 100,000 figure proves to be true. And of course with so much virus swirling around, the chances of it mutating, and becoming more severe, do increase.

Still, for most of us it's a sniffle and maybe a couple of days in bed, which is why GPs have been asking for some time why they had to hand antivirals out to people who patently didn't need them.

The answer is presumably that it takes a while for the Health Protection Agency's risk algorithms to catch up with reality – none of the complex statistical models used to work these things out predicted a pandemic quite this weedy.

The new approach, in which GPs will only be treating those they judge as really needing treating, is much more sensible, and will reduce workload a lot – but the next few weeks and months are still going to be a nightmare for practices.

Command and control by PCOs beckons, with its requirement for GPs to work a minimum of 52.5 hours a week, and probably much more.

And incredibly, the Department of Health is sticking to its line that there's no need to suspend the QOF, claiming the virus simply isn't nasty enough to trigger its pandemic alerts.

OK, so it's not Ebola, but we're talking 3 million cases a month here. Enough of those will surely be among the sick and the frail for GPs to find better things to do with their time than to diligently record everyone's BPs or smoking cessation status.

So, tough times ahead. I, however, am off on my holidays.

Good luck, all of you. I must admit to being rather glad I'm not a GP.

By Richard Hoey, Pulse editor

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