A special telephone helpline service for victims of swine flu has just been launched in England this week. Capable of answering a million calls a week, the special phoneline is part of England’s National Pandemic Flu Service.
The helpline service has come under fierce criticism as it isn’t staffed by medical professionals but by call centre staff with no medical training. The idea is that it will take some pressure off the NHS hospitals and GP’s surgeries. The government argue that the helpline is a quick and easy way for patients to get access to Tamiflu and other anti-viral drugs, without a visit to a GP surgery or hospital. However it is all too easy for medical professionals to make a wrong diagnosis so there is a real risk that the helpline staff could wrongly diagnose somebody too. There is always a danger that swine flu symptoms could mask a much more serious condition like meningitis.
Suspected swine flu sufferers will have the option of either visiting the National Pandemic Flu Service and filling in an online questionnaire or phoning the helpline and answering a checklist of questions about their symptoms, over the phone. Any sufferers are advised to enlist the help of a “flu friend”. If they get a positive diagnosis of swine flu, they will be given a special authorisation number so that their flu friend can pick up their Tamiflu or anti-viral medication from a designated collection point. The service sounds good in theory. Only time will tell how well it actually works.
Over 100,000 people are estimated to have contracted swine flu over here in the past week alone, whilst approximately 30 people have died from it. Within a few days of being launched, the website has already been inundated with visitors. New adverts for the service have just been launched as part of a £2.4million advertising campaign to promote it. The adverts detail the symptoms of swine flu which include a fever or a high temperature over 38C or 100.4F. The government is also advising people of the importance of sneezing into a handkerchief or tissue, rather than into the air, “catching the sneeze and binning it” and also the importance of hand hygiene and washing hands regularly. Many companies (including the company where I work) have invested in special hand gel which kills any germs associated with the virus. In the case of most illnesses, including swine flu, prevention is definitely better than cure.