Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 18:14 UK

NHS 'facing huge flu challenge'

Sir Liam Donaldson: "There has been no comparable emergency"

The swine flu pandemic is presenting the NHS with its "biggest challenge in a generation", the chief medical officer believes.

Sir Liam Donaldson told the BBC the coming months would be a real test for everyone working in the health service.

Under contingency plans, non-emergency operations can be cancelled and GPs moved around the country to help cope with flu hot-spots.

His comments came as another UK swine flu death was announced, in Glasgow.

The government has already announced the National Flu Service will go live this week to relieve some of the pressure on the health service.

Dealing with this is a marathon not a sprint
Sir Liam Donaldson,
Chief Medical Officer

The phone and internet service will enable people in England to get anti-flu drugs without going to their GPs.

It comes after 55,000 new cases have emerged in the past week alone, with every region but Yorkshire and the Humber starting to report "exceptional" demands on services.

But Sir Liam said it was only going to get worse.

"Dealing with this is a marathon not a sprint.

"That might involve cancelling some routine procedures but if that is necessary to treat people who are seriously ill with flu that is what will have to be done."


It comes as more details of deaths have emerged. The UK death toll had reached 29 last week, but the Scottish government has already announced one more death this week.

The 15-year-old girl died in Glasgow a week after she was admitted to hospital.

The teenager, who had underlying health problems, is the fourth person in Scotland to die with the virus.

1. High temperature, tiredness and lowered immunity
2. Headache, runny nose and sneezing
3. Sore throat
4. Shortness of breath
5. Loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea
6. Aching muscles, limb and joint pain
Source: NHS

Scotland's Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the death was "devastating" for her family.

But the actual number of deaths is likely to be higher as England will not be updating its figures until later in the week.

Elsewhere, a post-mortem examination showed a six-year-old girl from west London who had swine flu died of septic shock after suffering tonsillitis.

Chloe Buckley from West Drayton died in St Mary's Hospital, at Paddington in west London on 9 July.

Results from a post-mortem examination revealed she had tonsillitis caused by streptococcus A bacterium.

But London health officials have not ruled out the possibility that swine flu contributed to her death.

Announcing the results of the post-mortem examination, Dr Simon Tanner, regional director of public health for London, said: "We would once again like to extend our deepest condolences to Chloe's family at this difficult time and ask that the media respect their wishes to be allowed to come to terms with their loss in private."

Chloe, who contracted the virus in the UK, attended St Catherine's School in West Drayton.

Her parents, Michael and Jacinta, released a statement following her death on 9 July saying they were satisfied with the medical care Chloe had received and asked to be left alone to grieve.

Worst-case scenarios

Meanwhile in China, the first of more than 100 British school pupils quarantined at a Beijing hotel after coming into contact with students diagnosed with swine flu have been released.

A total of 21 students and two teachers were allowed to leave the Yanxiang Hotel early on Tuesday after spending seven days in quarantine.

The government has warned that the number of deaths from the virus this winter in the UK could reach between 19,000 and 65,000.

But it has stressed these are worst-case scenarios and compare to the 12,000 seasonal flu deaths seen each year on average.

Ministers have said they are not convinced of the benefits of closing schools this autumn despite Imperial College London scientists saying such a move could help slow the spread of cases and buy more time for a vaccine.

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