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Warning as cases of severe flu rise

By Lilian Anekwe

Experts have warned the NHS is heading for an emergency situation, after the number of people admitted to intensive care because of flu rose to more than 300.

Government figures show that 302 beds are now occupied by flu patients. Flu patients are now using 9% of intensive care beds. At the peak of last year's epidemic, 180 people were in critical care with confirmed or suspected flu.

In this winter's flu season, it is not known how many of those patients have H1N1 swine flu.

The figures come after figures showed vaccination rates so far this season have been down on last year, with the latest figures due out from the Health Protection Agency on Thursday.

Former RCGP chair Professor Steve Field said the situation was becoming urgent: 'This is getting to the point where it's becoming an emergency for the public's health and also the NHS's ability to cope, and we want to avoid that.'

Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, Professor Field backed the GPC's concern over low flu vaccine uptake and their criticism of the Government's failure to invest in a marketing campaign to raise awareness amongst the general public.

'It was ill-advised not to have the public awareness campaign on seasonal flu jab uptake that we usually have, because we knew that the public and healthcare professionals were likely to become complacent after last year's swine flu pandemic wasn't the serious attack on the country that we thought it could be,' he said.

The BMA has also written to ministers to urge them to reverse their decision and stave off a looming flu crisis. GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse last week: 'There is clearly a crisis brewing and it's only going to get worse'.

Flu vaccination