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Tuesday, January 5, 1999 Published at 18:14 GMT


Flu hospital uses lorry as mortuary

The lorry, which is being hired on a weekly basis

A hospital has been forced to hire a refrigerated lorry as a temporary mortuary as an outbreak of flu brings the health service to crisis point.

Alison Holt: Some doctors believe this situation is the worst they've seen for many years
The trailer has room for 36 bodies and is parked next to the existing 80-body mortuary at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in Norwich.

The flu crisis had brought the death toll at the hospital to unexpected levels.

A hospital spokesman said emergency admissions were up 50% on last year, and fewer burials and cremations over Christmas and the New Year had created a body jam.

Although it is not the worst flu outbreak the area has seen, it is the highest death rate, a local coroner said.

The flu outbreak has hit health services hard across the country, with staff illnesses contributing to the strain.

The Midlands and North West of England have so far been worst hit, but hospitals in the South are beginning to feel the pressure.

Services stretched

North West region ambulance services spokesman Hugh Lamont said services were severely stretched by a huge number of 'flu cases over the past two weeks.

"In the run up to New Year's Eve the ambulances in the Greater Manchester and Mersey region were each dealing with more than 1,000 calls every day, which is almost twice what they would have expected."

[ image: Ambulance services have difficulty coping]
Ambulance services have difficulty coping
Greater Manchester Ambulance Service handled 1,500 emergency calls in one day - more than twice the normal 650 per day.

Hospitals in the region were overwhelmed by flu-related cases, particularly in the run-up to New Year, when GP services could not handle the volume of emergency calls coming through.

Mr Lamont said that in one day GPs who were on call in Merseyside, and who would normally receive 1,200 calls a month, received 1,000 calls in just one day.

"The system was overrun. The next stage for people was to dial 999 and call an ambulance," he said.

"The hospitals were acting as clearing houses for primary care and also dealing with the more serious cases coming in."

Record cases

Dr Stephen Atherton, a consultant at Whiston Hospital, Greater Manchester, reported 100 cases of viral pneumonia in one week - three times as many as he had seen in any other week of his 28-year career.

Mr Lamont said the message to the public was to try not to call an ambulance unless it was absolutely necessary.

"There are clearly those who should be in hospital - but the key message is if you are young and fit then contact your GP first," he said.

"Most people who get flu just pass it off in time. The best advice is to get to bed, keep warm and drink lots of liquids."

Heading south

Cases of flu are also on the increase in southern parts of the country.

Geoff Martin, campaigns director for the pressure group London Health Emergency, said: "This flu epidemic is the last thing London needs at the moment and will pile pressure on to services that are already struggling to cope."

During the weekend no intensive care beds were available within the M25 area, and patients were being farmed out as far as Derby, he said.

"The current epidemic is the worst in 10 years," he said.

And in the West Country, health services are "under pressure but coping", managers say.

Most people coming into hospital there are suffering respiratory or flu-like symptoms.

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