AN EMERGENCY out of hours doctors service in the North East has been stretched to the limit during the Swine Flu pandemic.
Northern Doctors Urgent Care (NDUC) has been put under pressure by the volumes of calls coming in, at peak times around two and a half times the usual number expected for this time of year.
Extra resources have ensured the service, which fills in during evenings and weekends when GP surgeries are closed, has coped so far, but anyone who suspects they have swine flu is being urged to call the new National Pandemic Flu Service.
NDUC provides access to GP services for 934,000 people across Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside and South Tyneside.
At peak times it was receiving 200 calls in an evening with another 1,000 calling on Saturdays and Sundays, meaning doctors have had to work more shifts and longer hours.
And more than half of those calls were for suspected cases of swine flu. Dr Patrick Feeny, clinical executive, at Northern Doctors said: “We have been prepared and we have extra resources.
“Obviously we were expecting an increase and that is what we have seen. During some periods we have had about 150% of our usual calls.
“We have coped, but if there had been much higher demand we would have had to start looking at the service we provide.
“We have been struggling to fill every clinical position, our doctors are working extra hours. They are doing more shifts and are coming in early and leaving late.
“All our staff have been tremendous, there has been a great response.
“Fortunately we haven’t had high rates of staff sickness because that would have made things even harder.
“There has been a definite drop off in people calling since the new national pandemic flu service opened but about half our calls are still swine flu related and we are still seeing far higher volumes than is usual.
“We are now preparing for the winter when we fear there could be another big rise in the number of people.”
A spokeswoman for North of Tyne NHS Trust said: “The local NHS is asking people who think they may have swine flu to contact the new National Pandemic Flu Service for advice on symptoms and treatment for those who need it. If you think you have symptoms of swine flu, do not go to your local A&E department, GP surgery or health centre unless advised to do so by a healthcare professional.
“To prevent the spread of infection, people with symptoms of swine flu should go home and seek advice over the telephone. This will help prevent other people from catching the virus.”
Page 3 - Medical advice >>
What you should do if you think you have swine flu:
THE National Pandemic Flu Service is made up of a dedicated website and call centres and will be able to quickly tell people if they have swine flu. People who suspect they have swine flu can now either:
Answer questions to determine whether they have swine flu online at www.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu.
Ring the call centre service on 0800 151-3513, where trained staff will be able to assess them over the phone.
If you have an antiviral voucher and don't have anyone to collect it for you, please visit your local primary care trust website and follow the links from the homepage for further details.
www.northoftyne.nhs.uk for NHS North of Tyne and www.sotw.nhs.uk for NHS South of Tyne and Wear.