Practices face rise in swine flu calls

Practices are facing a sharp rise in calls from patients affected by swine flu, just as the heavy workload of the vaccination campaign looms.

Sir Liam Donaldson: patients are drifting back to their GPs
Sir Liam Donaldson: patients are drifting back to their GPs

Details of the swine flu vaccination directed enhanced service were published last week. GPs will need to achieve a vaccination rate of 50.7 per cent among at-risk groups to have their PE7 and PE8 payment thresholds reduced and gain extra payments.

However, the DoH and BMA said that GPs should aim high. 'Whilst a target of 50.7 per cent has been set, we hope that GPs will seek to achieve a swine flu vaccination uptake at least equal to or better than that achieved by the practice for seasonal flu in 2008/9,' the two organisations said in a guidance document.

Meanwhile, DoH data last week showed that patients who suspect they have swine flu are increasingly consulting GPs, rather than using England's pandemic flu service.

Sir Liam Donaldson, chief medical officer for England, said last week that patients were 'drifting back' to GPs.

Calls to both GP practices and the swine flu hotline fell in summer as the pandemic eased.

Although both are now rising, calls to GPs have risen faster - GP consultations for influenza-like illness are now at 43 cases per 100,000, compared with less than 20 for the hotline.

'Although the national pandemic flu service is still being used by the public, a gap seems to be opening up,' Sir Liam said.

The DoH plans an advertising drive to remind the public about the flu hotline, set up to relieve pressure on GPs.

'While the vaccine is not available yet to everybody, we still believe it is important that people are assessed when they have symptoms that might be pandemic flu and have access to antivirals if they need them.'

Sir Liam also stressed the importance of healthcare professionals being vaccinated themselves.

He said that initial figures for uptake of the jab among healthcare professionals had been encouraging.

So far figures are only available from Jersey, he said, but these showed that 64 per cent of healthcare professionals had opted to receive the jab.

'Given that the levels of seasonal flu uptake are only down at the 20 to 25 per cent level, 64 per cent is a very good result, especially if they build on it subsequently,' he said. 'We would be pleased if we could reach that sort of level.'

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