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Health Correspondant James Westhead
"There are signs the pressure is beginning to ease"
 real 28k

Health Secretary Alan Milburn
"The National Health Service will not let this get out of control"
 real 28k

Sunday, 9 January, 2000, 15:18 GMT
NHS on its knees, say Tories

The health service has been "brought to its knees" by the flu outbreak, say Conservatives.

And they have scorned government claims that the system can cope.

If Alan Milburn really believes that the health service is coping well he must be living in an isolation unit
Liam Fox
As Britain continued to wheeze and sneeze, the political row intensified on Sunday.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn admitted the outbreak was reaching epidemic levels. But he insisted staff were coping well.

Shadow health secretary Liam Fox replied: "If Alan Milburn really believes that the health service is coping well he must be living in an isolation unit all on his own.

"Doctors, nurses and patients who are living in the real world are astonished that the health service of the world's fifth largest economy in the 21st century should be brought to its knees by a flu epidemic."

Flu nightmare
Mr Milburn, speaking on BBC One's Breakfast With Frost programme, said there was no doubt it was a serious outbreak.

He added: "The NHS has been coping tremendously well. Staff have done a quite magnificent job.

'Serious outbreak'

There can hardly be a family in the land that hasn't been hit by flu
Health Secretary Alan Milburn
"What's true is that the NHS is up against a very serious outbreak of flu indeed. The official figures probably under-record the true level of the flu and I think that's borne out by people's own experience.

"There can hardly be a family in the land that hasn't been hit by flu. They will also know it's a particularly nasty virus," he added.

Flu: have you got it?
Symptoms: sudden onset, high temperature, shivers, 'too ill to move' feeling, muscle and joint pain, deep cough causing restricted breathing
Treatment: lower temperature with paracetamol, increase fluid intake, complete rest for a few days
Vulnerable: elderly, very young, those with existing respiratory problems, eg. severe asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Hospital: the above people may need hospital care if breathing problems worsen
NB: Most antibiotics do not help flu - unless you are a vulnerable patient it is pointless taking them

Pressure on the UK's intensive care units is expected ease within the next fortnight, despite flu cases reaching their seasonal peak, as many nurses return to work after extended millennium breaks.

Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, told the BBC the problem lay not in a shortage of actual beds, but in hospitals having too few nurses to accompany them.

Many hospitals have already been forced to cancel planned surgery because no intensive care facilities are available for patients following their operations.

Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the NHS, told the BBC he was confident people were getting the right care.

He said: "Anyone who will benefit from intensive care is getting that care from the health service."

The number of empty intensive care beds in the country rose to 31 on Sunday from 20, on Saturday, a Department of Health spokeswoman said.

Private healthcare firm Bupa said on Sunday it could offer 19 intensive care beds to the NHS.

And Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy told the government not to reject such offers of help for "ideological reasons".

The government's chief medical officer said the flu outbreak was reaching "serious epidemic" levels.

Professor Liam Donaldson said 300 in every 100,000 Britons now has flu.

In some areas - such as Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland - it is 866 in every 100,000.

Prof Donaldson said there were probably twice as many people suffering from the bug than the official statistics indicated, because thousands have not told their doctors.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the official statistics showed there were 144 people in every 100,000 suffering from flu.

As the usual gauge of an epidemic in England was 400 people in every 100,000, she said, the flu crisis was therefore not being officially treated as an epidemic by the government.

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See also:
08 Jan 00 |  Health
Flu pushes NHS to breaking point
08 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Executive ignored flu warning, says BMA
08 Apr 99 |  Medical notes
Flu: The facts
07 Jan 00 |  Wales
A curry a day keeps the 'flu bug away
07 Jan 00 |  Americas
Flu rages across US
06 Jan 00 |  Entertainment
Castaways adrift over flu
06 Jan 00 |  Health
Tackling the misery of flu
08 Jan 00 |  Scotland
NHS 'can cope with flu outbreak'
05 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Flu ravages Scotland

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