Page last updated at 12:16 GMT, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

GPs under winter illness pressure

Man sneezing
Flu and colds are the main cause of increased GP calls

GPs in England have been inundated with patients over the festive period, figures from the NHS Alliance suggest.

On average there has been a 25% rise in demand for GP out-of-hour services across England with some areas seeing much higher rates.

Many of the calls are about flu and latest surveillance figures show levels remain higher than in recent years.

GPs urged patients to stock up on cold and flu remedies and get advice from the pharmacist if needed.

The vast majority of people with colds and flu just need to take paracetamol for pain and fever, have lots of drinks and rest
Professor Steve Field, Royal College of GPs

The informal NHS Alliance survey showed a wide variation across the country.

In the West Midlands, Saturday call volumes were up 60% compared with the same period in November and 26% higher than predicted.

GPs in the North West have also felt added strain with a 34% increase in out-of-hours demand.


Separate figures from the out of hours service for most of Birmingham and Solihull show the highest-ever demand.

The service, which covers, 1.5m patients took 6,500 calls over Christmas - one call for every 150 people.

They have also been taking calls for the ambulance service to relieve pressure.

Rick Stern, Primary Care Lead, NHS Alliance, said: "The ambulance services are under pressure, but we should not forget that those working in primary care are also having to cope with significant demand."

Dr Mark Reynolds, a GP in Tunbridge in Kent said: "GPs are working harder than ever at weekends and evenings but services are coping well.

"It would be a great help if patients with flu-like symptoms could either stock up on their normal medication or consult their pharmacists - symptoms usually last a week."

The Royal College of GPs said its weekly surveillance data suggested there had been no change in levels of flu although rates in the over 65s may have risen slightly.

It has been predicted that this winter could be the worst flu season in nine years.

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said they had spoken to colleagues around the country and many GPs had been putting on extra surgeries as well as doing more out-of-hours work.

He advised: "The vast majority of people with colds and flu just need to take paracetamol for pain and fever, have lots of drinks and rest."

But those with existing heart and chest conditions are more vulnerable to complications and should call for advice if their symptoms are lingering or getting worse, he added.

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