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Monday, January 18, 1999 Published at 03:03 GMT


Flu hype worsened NHS crisis

Accident and emergency: Hospitals are buckling under the strain

Media hype about the flu outbreak and meningitis has worsened the NHS crisis, doctors have claimed.

NHS in crisis
The Doctor Patient Partnership (DPP) says scare stories in the media have led to a huge increase in demands on hospitals when patients would be better off going to their chemist or their local GP.

Dr Simon Fradd of the DPP said some reports had suggested GPs were unable to cope with the crisis, which had led to many going to hard-pressed accident and emergency departments instead.

He added that the media coverage had also led to people panicking about the flu, when "for the vast majority of people there is really no medical difference between a cold and the flu".

"You feel worse, but you are at no more risk and you take the same treatment," he stated.


Many media reports suggested the flu outbreak was of epidemic proportions.

An epidemic is when 400 people per 100,000 get the bug while at its height, the flu outbreak affected just 270 people per 100,000.

"There is an emotive side to the public perception of epidemics. It suggests there is disaster everywhere," said Dr Fradd.

The reason for the crisis in hospitals was not the flu itself, but cutbacks in beds and the staff to support the beds, he said.

This was due to NHS successes such as the doubling of day surgery in the last five years and faster throughput of patients.

Cutbacks had been too drastic and meant that the health service could not cope with "a minor blip" like the flu outbreak.

Dr Mark Reynolds, chairman of the National Association of GP Co-operatives, said GPs had seen a big rise in cases due to the flu outbreak, but had coped.

Out-of-hours co-operatives - which are available for emergency calls - saw a rise of up to 130% over the holiday period.

Joyce Robins of the Patients Association said: "We would advise patients with flu to consult their pharmacist first. Pharmacists are one of our most underused resources.

"They are trained to recognise symptoms and will be able to advise on whether you should see a doctor or go home to bed."

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