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NHS could face 12% swine flu sickness absence

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The health service has been told to prepare for more than one in ten of its workforce to be on sick leave with swine flu at any one time.

Speaking at a pandemic flu briefing last week, chief medical officer for England Sir Liam Donaldson said that up to 12% of the workforce could be absent at the same time.

Those still at work may have to cope with up to 30% of the general population being infected during the winter, according to the government’s ‘reasonable worst case’ predictions. This would see an estimated 360,000 patients needing hospital treatment, of whom 90,000 could need critical care.

National director for NHS flu resilience Ian Dalton said trusts should be ready to provide ‘surge capacity’ in critical care. He said: ‘Clearly there are huge discussions to be had which are under way with trade unions and frontline staff about how we keep services going.’

Sir Liam also said the national pandemic flu service, which would prescribe antivirals via phone and internet, would be launched in England this week to take pressure off services. He said in ‘hotspots’ GPs were being ‘completely overwhelmed’.

However, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not be adopting the hotline at this point. Their own measures are currently proving adequate.

Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish flu response hotline set up at the beginning of June was currently coping well with around 500 calls a day.

Welsh health minister Edwina Hart said: ‘We will continue to focus on providing care and support to people through existing services that they are more familiar with and comfortable with using for as long as possible.’

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