Health bosses call for calm over swine flu

CONCERNED patients are being urged not to panic over swine flu after it emerged that around half of all antiviral prescriptions in Suffolk are not being picked up.

Rebecca Lefort

CONCERNED patients are being urged not to panic over swine flu after it emerged that around half of all antiviral prescriptions in Suffolk are not being picked up.

The plea came after health bosses warned tackling the pandemic in Suffolk could cost the county's healthcare system millions of pounds.

NHS Suffolk's director of public health, Dr Peter Bradley, said 50% of antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, were not collected after being prescribed to patients self-diagnosed with swine flu.

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In the last week 300 to 500 antiviral prescriptions were issued every day in Suffolk.

In north east Essex, more than 5,000 antivirals were authorised in July, most of which had been collected.

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Although the unwanted drugs do not cost NHS Suffolk money it does waste time, so Dr Bradley stressed: “We would urge anyone who has internet access to first check their symptoms on the NHS Direct website at - so as not to use people's time unnecessarily.

“If they are still concerned, then they should contact the National Flu Pandemic service online or by telephone at or 0800 1 513 100 and go through the necessary steps to collect their antiviral medication.”

At Wednesday's board meeting of NHS Suffolk health bosses warned that the growing number of cases of the pandemic was putting pressure on finances.

The primary care trust's chief executive, Carole Taylor-Brown, added that the outbreak had put an extra burden on staff resources.

She said: “This is an enormous drain on the organisation.

“We are carrying on with business as normal so that means that people are absorbing swine flu duties on top of their other services.

“It is a huge drain and it is credit to all staff who are working some very extended hours.”

NHS Suffolk is no longer collecting exact figures of the number of people affected, but the increase in drug prescribing shows more people are catching swine flu.

Julian Herbert, the trust's director of finance and performance, said NHS Suffolk had been given an additional �150,000 to deal with pandemic flu, but that would not be enough to cover all the extra costs.

He added: “At this stage it is difficult to identify exactly the financial implications. We set up a continuity fund of around �7million and I think we are going to have to fund it through that.”

Mike Gogarty, Director of Public Health for NHS North East Essex, said: “Throughout the month of July, we have authorised just over 5,000 antivirals, the majority of which have been collected by members of the public. Those which have not been collected are not wasted because the antivirals are not actually dispensed until the person arrives with their unique reference number.

“Swine flu is clearly an additional cost not budgeted for but we have contingency budgets for such scenarios. It is too early to make predictions on what the eventual cost of tackling swine flu will be.”

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