Page last updated at 16:49 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 17:49 UK

UK 'close' to winning flu fight

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Sir Liam Donaldson: "We've seen a substantial downturn"

The UK is "tantalisingly" close to winning the battle against swine flu, the chief medical officer says.

Sir Liam Donaldson explained while past pandemics claimed tens of thousands of lives, the death toll for the current one was being kept relatively low.

But he warned he was still expecting a surge of cases during the autumn and winter months.

And just in case the next wave proved particularly bad, he unveiled plans to double intensive care bed numbers.

Sir Liam said the use of anti-flu drugs and the forthcoming vaccine programme meant the signs were encouraging.

There were only a further five deaths in the past week bringing the overall total in the UK to 75 since the swine flu outbreak began.

"I think we are tantalisingly close to being able to win the battle against the pandemic virus.

"In past [pandemics] we have had to take whatever it has thrown at us."

Nonetheless, Sir Liam said it was only right that the NHS should still plan for the worst case scenario.

Earlier this week the Tories had said emergency planning for critical care was the weak link in the flu preparations.

Ministers had already started drawing up proposals and these have now been unveiled.

Pressure

The strategy means the number of adult intensive care beds could increase to well over 4,000 across the UK if there was severe pressure on services.

However, officials admitted they may struggle to double the number of beds for children, which currently stands at just over 300.

It may mean some older children being treated in adult units if there are large numbers of severely ill patients.

To expand services on this scale, hospitals have been asked to train extra staff.

New ventilators are also being purchased.

But as well as setting up temporary intensive care units, the plans also involve putting extra equipment into high dependency units - the level below intensive care.

Ian Dalton, the national director for flu, said the decision to introduce the measures would not be taken lightly, but added the NHS may have to prioritise and postpone the treatment of non-urgent cases to save lives.

He added: "Clearly nobody knows whether the measures will be needed, but it would be inappropriate if we did not look into this."

Swine flu rates



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