Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 12:31 UK

PM seeks to calm swine flu fears

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown says the NHS is continuing to cope with flu

The NHS is continuing to cope with the flu pandemic despite the rise in cases, the prime minister says.

Gordon Brown has sought to reassure the public by saying the plans in place were "robust".

He also said the National Flu Service, which is being launched in England later this week, will help relieve the pressure on the health service.

It comes as another death has been announced in the West Midlands, bringing the total to at least 31.

No more details are being released about the latest person to die with swine flu.

SWINE FLU SYMPTOMS
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

And the overall figure is likely to climb on Thursday when the Department of Health gives its weekly update. Worldwide, more than 700 people have died.

Mr Brown said: "I would like the public to be reassured that we have been preparing for a pandemic for a number of years.

"The NHS is continuing to cope well, but as swine flu cases have started to increase we have needed to give anti-virals more quickly.

"From the end of this week the National Flu Service will be up and running. This will free up GP and NHS time."

GPs have started to raise concerns about the number of calls they are getting about flu with every region of England apart from Yorkshire and the Humber seeing "exceptional" levels of demand.

Under contingency plans, non-emergency operations can be cancelled and doctors moved around the health service to help tackle hotspots.

It has not reached that stage yet, but ministers have been forced to set up the flu service.

The phone and internet service will allow people with swine flu to get access to anti-flu drugs without needing to consult a doctor.

Challenge

Mr Brown was speaking the day after Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson admitted the flu pandemic was presenting the NHS with its "biggest challenge in a generation".

In the worst-case scenario, up to a third of the population could become infected this winter with as many as 65,000 deaths.

Sir Liam said coping with such huge demands would be a real test for everyone working in the health service.

Meanwhile, the Meningitis Research Foundation has warned the focus on swine flu risks masking other serious illnesses.

A 17-year-old from Derbyshire was admitted to hospital last week after originally being diagnosed with swine flu.

The foundation warned people to be aware of the disease as the early symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia were "very similar" to flu.

The group also said the levels of flu circulating in the UK meant that immune systems were compromised and could lead to a rise in meningitis cases.



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