Page last updated at 23:10 GMT, Friday, 24 July 2009 00:10 UK

Swine flu 'critical care threat'

Sharon Pentleton
Sharon Pentleton is being treated in Sweden

Swine flu cases could overwhelm intensive care departments in England, specialists have warned.

Demand for critical care beds could outstrip supply by 130%, a study in the journal Anaesthesia predicts.

Hospitals in the South West, East of England, East Midlands and South East coast will be worst hit, it calculated.

Meanwhile, a pregnant UK woman with swine flu taken to Sweden for treatment is "gravely ill" but is being given the "best chance of survival", say doctors.

Predictions of bed shortages in England came as the World Health Organization said there could be two billion cases globally during the pandemic.

WHO flu chief Keiji Fukuda said evidence from previous pandemics suggested even a few million cases could be seen relatively early in the pandemic.

He added that the sharp spike in cases in England - a doubling in the past week to 100,000 new cases - was consistent with what they expected.

The Foreign Office has announced at least 160 British people with swine flu are in quarantine in China, Singapore, India and Egypt.

Dr Stefan Engquist says Sharon Pentleton is in a stable condition

On Thursday swine flu sufferer Sharon Pentleton had to be transferred from Scotland to Sweden to receive specialist treatment, because no beds were available in the UK for the procedure she needed.

The 26 year old, who is pregnant, was admitted to Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, but was moved after suffering an extreme reaction.

She is undergoing a procedure called extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) in which her blood is circulated out of the body and oxygen added artificially.

Dr Palle Palmer, from Karolinska University Hospital, said the treatment would buy the patient some time and allow her body to recover.

Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said doctors were pleased with how Ms Pendleton had coped with the journey and she said the treatment "might and hopefully will save her life".

Ms Pendleton's family added: "Sharon continues to receive the best possible treatment but is still gravely ill."

The National Flu Service launched in England on Thursday is now believed to be coping with demand after initially crashing under 9.3m hits an hour.

INTERNATIONAL PICTURE
The World Health Organization is no longer issuing routine swine flu numbers as countries are collecting data differently making comparisons difficult
In total 160 of 193 countries have reported cases
The UK has the highest number of cases in Europe but 30 countries have now reported cases
The southern hemisphere has been hit fairly hard and latest figures from Australia show more than 16,500 confirmed cases and 46 deaths
The US, Canada, and some countries in South America are also reporting a large number of cases

Patients have contacted the BBC to say they have had problems getting their Tamiflu supply.

Sainsbury's have said they will be opting out of distributing Tamiflu over fears it might encourage swine flu victims into its supermarkets.

Tesco and Asda have both signed up some of their pharmacies as collection points for people needing the drug.

The Conservatives have criticised the National Flu Service, claiming the system is "too little, too late".

Tory health spokesman Mark Simmonds said the web and telephone service should have been set up earlier when a global pandemic was declared.

'Under review'

The National Flu Service offers sufferers access to drugs on the phone and via the internet without the need to see a GP.

The government said demand was "unprecedented", with 2,600 hits a second. The site crashed shortly after its launch for about two and half hours.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said they had increased capacity but expected demand to drop.

Sir Liam Donaldson: "There will be an element of the worried well"

"Our initial analysis suggests many people visited the site out of curiosity, they started to check the checklist and then abandoned it.

The Tories said there was "still far too much confusion about access to diagnosis and treatment for swine flu".

Mr Simmonds told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We should have had the flu line and the website up earlier. We should have gone live when the WHO [World Health Organisation] said we had pandemic levels.

"Indeed, the fact that the website crashed within two to five minutes of it being up and running, I think, is a function of the fact that it wasn't up earlier.

THE PANDEMIC FLU SERVICE
People in England can phone 0800 1 513 100 or log on to www.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu
People in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland should contact NHS Direct or their GP
The network of call centres is being staffed by 1,500 people to start with working from 8am to midnight
They are using a checklist to diagnose swine flu and can issue a voucher number if drugs are required
The public is also able to use the website to fill in the checklist and get access to the drugs that way
Sufferers are still able to go direct to GPs and pregnant women, parents of children under one and those with underlying health conditions should all contact a doctor if swine flu is suspected

"Therefore, people couldn't access the information, they couldn't discover themselves whether they had the appropriate symptoms that would give them the opportunity to get Tamiflu.

"I think it is a direct result of that."

The latest UK death toll from swine flu stands at 26.

The DoH said two-thirds of the deaths were among people with severe health conditions, such as cancer.

Some 840 patients are in hospital - 63 of which are in critical care - compared to 652 last week.

Dr Ari Ercole, University of Cambridge, an author on the study on critical care bed capacity said provision in paediatric intensive care units would be "quickly exhausted."

He added that there could be a 20% excess demand for ventilators in some areas.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said all NHS organisations had pandemic plans in place.

"As part of our preparations, guidance has been issued which contains information for primary and secondary care services in the UK on managing surge capacity and the prioritisation of services and patients during an influenza widespread outbreak."

Checklist

To contact the National Flu Service, people in England can call 0800 1 513 100 or log on to www.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu

The flu service is not covering the rest of the UK as Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have all experienced much less demand.

People with underlying health problems, pregnant women and parents concerned for children aged under one are still being advised to contact a GP.

A checklist is being used by call centre staff and the website to decide whether people have swine flu.

If the virus is suspected, people will be given a voucher number to give to a flu friend to take to a collection point to pick up anti-flu drugs.


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