GPs fear illness could be missed by swine flu hotline

Many GPs are concerned patients with serious health problems could be missed if they seek advice from the National Flu Pandemic Service.

A poll for GP magazine found nearly 90% of family doctors fear conditions such as tonsilitis, bronchitis and meningitis may be overlooked.

The symptoms are so vague and wide ranging, swine flu can masquerade as a vast array of other diseases

Since the National Pandemic Flu Service was launched last month, it has prescribed the anti-viral drug tamiflu to 150,000 people.

But concerns have been raised that the phone lines are staffed by people with no medical training, working from a check list.

In the survey of 251 GPs, 87% said it was possible that diagnosing swine flu over the phone could mean that other diseases may be missed.

Just 3% were confident that this would not happen.

The poll comes after it was revealed that a 13-year-old boy from Yate, south Gloucestershire became seriously ill with a kidney infection after being misdiagnosed with swine flu.

Responding to the poll, one GP said: “The symptoms are so vague and wide ranging, swine flu can masquerade as a vast array of other diseases.”

Another doctor said it was “blindingly obvious that a telephone diagnosis will very rarely, but very significantly, miss an alternative diagnosis which could lead to severe morbidity or mortality”.

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, accepted that the poll was an accurate reflection of doctors’ concerns.

He admitted there would be a few patients who should be going straight to their GP, rather than contacting the flu service.

But he said patient safety had been the top priority when the checklists for the new service were being drawn up.

He also stressed that the service was not designed to give a diagnosis, but to enable patients suspected of having swine flu to get speedy access to anti-viral drugs.

Professor Field said: “The National Pandemic Flu Service has taken a lot of pressure off GPs previously swamped by calls from worried patients.

“This has freed up a lot more of GPs’ time to concentrate on patients whose conditions are worsening or have developed complications as well as those people continuing to access their GP for advice and treatment for other conditions.”

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