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BBC News' Fergus Walsh
"There aren't the nurses to staff intensive care beds"
 real 28k

Sir Alan Langlands
"Every one who needs care is getting it"
 real 28k

The BBC's Phil Mackey
"Most people are heeding advice and are not visiting doctors unless symptoms are chronic"
 real 28k

Mark Hutchins in Cardiff
"Politicians have been playing down what is a dire situation"
 real 28k

Health Minister John Denham
We are not performing as well as other countries in some areas
 real 28k

Monday, 10 January, 2000, 09:15 GMT
Nurse shortage blamed for flu crisis

Hospital ward Hospitals are under intense pressure

Extra intensive care beds would have been available for flu victims if more specialist nurses had been recruited and trained, say nurse leaders.

Flu nightmare
Pressure on the UK's intensive care units is expected to ease within the next week as flu cases reach their seasonal peak.

However, at one stage only a handful of beds were available, with none free in London.

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

Intensive care nursing involves having more than one nurse - each fully trained in specialist skills - assigned to each patient at any one time.

Ms Hancock said: "If nurses get sick and patients get sicker there is a real crisis, because there aren't enough to deal with these large numbers of people."

The government has attempted to stem the flow of nurses from the NHS, as well as improve nurse recruitment by encouraging more flexible working arrangements and pay incentives for experienced nurses to return to the NHS.

The number of flu infections has increased, according to the latest figures, but experts say there is little risk of an epidemic.

Flu: numbers of cases (per 100,000 population)
England (400 = epidemic) 144
Northern Ireland (400) 145
Wales (400) 128
Scotland (1,000) 540
The weekly statistics released by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) showed a small increase in the number of people suffering from the virus in England.

In England, the number of reported cases rose from 124 per 100,000 population last week to 144 this week.

Anything less than 400 is not classed as an epidemic.

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: self-medicate with paracetamol to reduce temperature, increase consumption of fluids, rest completely for a few days
Vulnerable: the elderly, the very young, those with existing respiratory problems, for example, severe asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Hospital: the above people may need hospital attention if breathing problems worsen
Remember: antibiotics do not help flu - unless you are a vulnerable patient it is pointless taking them

In Scotland, the number of cases has almost doubled over the last week.

The low number of people going to their GPs earlier in the winter for flu vaccinations has been partly blamed for the problem.

Hospitals are using operating theatre recovery rooms and casualty department resuscitation units to ventilate seriously ill patients.

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."

There is a particularly nasty viral chest condition going around which is affecting all age groups and causing pneumonia.
London NHS spokesman
A spokesman for the London region NHS said: "What we are finding is that there is a particularly nasty viral chest condition going around which is affecting all age groups and causing pneumonia.

"People are coming in very ill and are needing to be ventilated but they respond very well to treatment and after a couple of hours can be transferred back to an ordinary bed."

Some of the pressure had been eased by the NHS Direct telephone advice service which is currently taking 17,000 calls a day - four times the normal level.

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See also:
06 Jan 00 |  Health
Tackling the misery of flu
08 Apr 99 |  Medical notes
Flu: The facts
05 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Flu ravages Scotland
30 Dec 99 |  Health
Flu cases on the rise
28 Dec 99 |  Health
Holiday flu grips nation
04 Oct 99 |  Health
Flu drug row intensifies
06 Oct 99 |  Health
Another flu drug on the way
02 Sep 99 |  Health
Cost warning on flu drug
06 Jan 99 |  Health
Doctors warn against flu panic

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