Page last updated at 16:25 GMT, Thursday, 10 December 2009

Northern Ireland swine flu cases decrease again

Woman sneezing
Fewer people contacted their doctor about swine flu symptoms

The number of people being diagnosed with swine flu in Northern Ireland is continuing to drop.

GP consultation rates for flu or flu-like symptoms decreased in the past week by 24%, while out-of-hours calls to doctors have fallen by 30%.

Out of nine people treated in hospital, five were children under five.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said: "This highlights the need to vaccinate these young children as soon as possible."

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: "Our figures suggest that we have almost completed the initial priority groups and are now ready to move to phase two of the vaccination programme.

"Children aged from six months up to five years will now be offered the vaccine.

"We know that they are more likely to be admitted to hospital and that many of them do not have underlying health conditions."

Meanwhile, a health chief has said he was disappointed that negotiations over swine flu vaccinations for the under-fives broke down because of finances.

It is believed the government and the BMA were unable to agree on how doctors would carry out a mass vaccination during the busy winter months and meet targets to provide routine appointments for patients within 48 hours.

Under the terms of their contract, doctors are paid bonuses for this service.

John Compton, chief executive of the Regional Health and Social Care Board, told the assembly's health committee it should not have come down to money.

"It is always a matter of regret when it presents itself as a rather difficult negotiation over whether it's £5.20, £6.20 or £10.20 - I think that's just the wrong place to be," he said.

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