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2000: Flu outbreak stretches NHS resources
Hospitals around the UK are feeling the strain of the current flu outbreak even though it has not been classed as an epidemic.

In Scotland latest figures show that the number of people with a flu-like illness has doubled. A similar increase is predicted in England and Wales.

In Liverpool hospitals have cancelled all non-emergency surgery to try and cope with a shortage of beds.

Some patients have had to stay overnight on trolleys while they wait for treatment.

In London all the capital's 275 intensive-care beds are full.

Poor uptake of flu vaccine

Health experts also say that the outbreak has been made worse by the fact that vulnerable people such as the elderly have not been vaccinated.

The Public Health Laboratory Service said the uptake was not what it should be in the high-risk groups.

The crisis offers an easy target for opposition politicians seeking to explode Labour's jubilant post-election promises of radical NHS reform.

Nineteen US states and several European countries are currently stretching their medical capacities to the limit as flu epidemics take hold.

Royal College of Nursing general-secretary Christine Hancock told the BBC that the problem lay not in a shortage of actual beds, but in hospitals having too few nurses to accompany them.

But Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the NHS, said he was confident people were getting the right care.

He said: "Anyone who will benefit from intensive care is getting that care from the health service."

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Two nurses at the bedside of an elderly patient
A nurse attends to a flu patient at Glasgow's Royal Infirmary

In Context
A few days later, Professor Liam Donaldson, the government's chief medical officer, made controversial claims that the UK was experiencing its first flu epidemic for a decade, despite the fact that statistics suggested the outbreak was only halfway towards reaching epidemic status.

The huge influx of patients coupled with staff sickness left many hospitals struggling not only to tend the living, but even to store the dead. At some hospitals, refrigerated lorries were used as temporary mortuaries as existing facilities were overwhelmed.

The knock-on effects were immense. Most trusts started to cancel routine planned surgery and thousands of patients were affected.

The government blamed the problem on what they said was the worst flu outbreak for a decade. But the opposition said it was exaggerating the effects of the current flu outbreak to cover up the failings of its health policies.

Flu facts
What is an epidemic? When 400 in every 100,000 people have the virus.
Who is at risk? The elderly, the very young and those with respiratory problems.
How do I know I've got it? Look out for high temperature, shivers, muscle and joint pain, deep cough causing restricted breathing.
How do I treat it? Lower the temperature with paracetamol, increase fluid intake, complete rest for a few days.
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