The comments on my post about swine flu have been really eyeopening. There were one or two that made me angry and think “this commenter is PRECISELY the sort of person who ignores the advice in the media and thinks they are entitled to abuse the 999 service” but mainly I saw people who were terrified of getting swine flu and worried that their GP service won’t be able to do enough if they do. For a couple of commenters, these fears had become a reality as they or a relative had caught swine flu, and not all were satisfied with the service they’d received from GPs etc. For those people, 999 had become an option because they felt they had nowhere else to turn. This is still a misuse of the service, but it’s one borne out of fear and caring, not selfishness and entitlement. I understand this – I’m terrified of getting it too, not because of being ill but because I’m worried how we will cope at work if half the Control staff are off sick. We’re already in isolation (no visitors in the room, even ambulance crews) and being asked to spray ourselves and the equipment with various noxious antiseptics. I do think people are panicking unnecessarily because the number of deaths is tiny, and normal flu can kill too, but the media circus is mainly to blame for that.

Just to clarify, when I said we should be turning people with swine flu away, I did NOT mean people who are seriously ill. High risk groups and anyone with life threatening symptoms would never get turned away if I were making the rules. The people who WOULD get turned away are people who haven’t bothered ringing their GP, haven’t bothered taking medication for their symptoms, who feel they should never be ill and that we should be able to provide a quick fix. People with mild symptoms who just want to get a diagnosis of swine flu. Healthy 20-somethings who can open the door to the ambulance crew. I think that those of you who go by the book and only call us out as a last resort really have NO IDEA of the number of people who misuse the service or the frustration of crews and control staff.

One paramedic rang me yesterday at the end of his tether.

“This is the fourth case of mild, non life threatening swine flu I’ve been to today!” he lamented as he gave me the details to arrange a GP, just as the patient should have done for himself. “I am so going to catch it. But it’s not me I am worried about – I have a baby, a toddler and a pregnant wife. They’re all in high risk groups.”

“I know,” I said. “It frustrates me as well, but what can we do? We have to send.”

“I’ll put that on my baby’s gravestone, shall I?” huffed the paramedic. “Sorry, I know it’s not your fault. But please try and send me to something else next!”

Fortunately, the new swine flu centres and hotline should be operational very soon, so we won’t have to send ambulances to swine flu patients unless they really need them.

Published Jul 22, 2009 - 45 Comments and counting

45 Comments on “Swine Flu (again)”
  1. Nee Naw - Swine Flu (again) | Swine Flu Blog on Updates Outbreaks and Cure Says:

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  2. Nee Naw - Swine Flu (again) Says:

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  3. Flora Gardens Says:

    Well said – we are all fed up to the back teeth with the 20-something "I can't walk, but I can manage to get to the fridge for beer and the corner shop for fags" brigade!!

  4. Libby Says:

    I'm not entirely sure what it is people think the ambulance is going to do! It just transports them to be ill somewhere else (where they could infect many more people) and if they've just got normal flu symptoms and are not at serious risk it seems pretty pointless to want to go to hospital.

    I hope the new hotline/centres mean you get less timewasters – I guess a lot of them are the sort of people that have never had real flu before. They've had "flu" (aka a cold) before, so they think they know what it feels like…and suddenly they feel like death warmed up and think it must be something far worse than flu – it must be deadly… because, in thier minds, "flu" is just when you spend a couple of days in bed sneezing with a headache/sore throat/cough, and drinking Lemsip…

    (And I'm sorry for using the f word a few times in that post, you must be sick to the back teeth of hearing it.)

  5. Nee Naw - Swine Flu (again) | Swine Flu In 2009 Says:

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  8. Dan Says:

    It would seem here in sunny Basildon, that the GPs aren't entirely sure what is going on… I seem to have several friends suffering with Swine Flu, and all have been treated differently.

    -1 diagnosed himself online, phone the doc, told him he HAD swine flu, doc sorted him out some Tamiflu.
    -1 called up with a nice lump of the symptoms for swine flu, doctor receptionist made an appointment at the surgery for Friday evening.
    -1 called the surgery, and was told to dial 999.

    Of these three, the one told to call an ambulance has a bit of a temperature and a sniffle, while the one that has an appointment on Friday is shivering, blinding headache, coughing, wheezing and feeling very sorry for herself.

    I dread to think how the dispatchers/crews cope to be honest :D Keep up the good work however you cope ;)


  9. Ailbhe Says:

    I had to phone NHS Direct with my symptoms lately and several of the questions made me worried that a simple "Yes" would get me an ambulance. I Know Them Of Old.

    Luckily, I got a real nurse instead, who believed "really but not dangerously ill" and gave my partner instructions on what to look out for if the kids got sick too, since I'm too ill to tell which child I'm talking to, let alone whether they are behaving normally or not.

  10. Nee Naw - Swine Flu (again) « Swine Flu Says:

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  11. hmmmmmm Says:

    But you're well enough to type comments on here though, that's impressive ;o)

  12. Stacey Says:

    I think you should change your jobs then because there are people out there frightened to death with this thing and yeah the media is the culprit but for someone in your position to say that someone feeling unwell with a virus that has never been around before and is unpredictable of what the out come may be for them is wrong . You or nobody can say what will happen to that one person with swine flu healthy or not

  13. MarkUK Says:

    Locally, our main deputising service uses ECPs, not medics. Now, I have the greatest respect for ECPs, but they are not doctors. Whilst they have a GP back at control, I do not believe the patient always gets the service they pay for.

  14. LittleMissAlien Says:

    I just don't get it – it's flu, with another word tagged on the front of it. I had flu in February, a few weeks of feeling ill, no biggie. Why does the addition of another word make it so much more serious? No one thinks about how many people die of regular flu each winter!

    I work as an assistant to school nurses, and have been going into schools with cases of swine flu on a daily basis (until the school holidays started this week, yay!), each time I'm asked if I'm happy to go into the schools. Yet I've never been asked if I'm happy to go into schools where there's mumps, or measles or something else nasty and infectious. The fact is, my 2 year old has had it (caught off my sister) and my partner and I are resigned to getting it at some point (I was hoping to get it over the Summer if I get it, but now I hope I don't get it just yet as I someone rear-ended me yesterday and I've got severe whiplash). Sometimes I wonder if we're the only people out there who don't care either way if we get it or not.

    Personally I'd take this over the norovirus we all got last November, caught during a trip to children's A&E to get a trapped finger checked out – this was the main reason I opted NOT to go to A&E for my whiplash yesterday, instead I went to my GP in the hope of avoiding the fools who go to A&E with the most minor of ailments. Until I started entering A&E slips onto SystmOne for a living I had no idea what idiots some people are – GPs for tonsillitis, people, PLEASE!!!

  15. ED-Doc Says:

    The fact is that swine flu is causing panic, not because people will die of the illness, but because the transmissibility of this strain appears to be higher than seasonal flu – which basically means it will infect more people. The transmissibility of a virus is measured by a reproductive value, which in the case of swine flu has been estimated to be sitting at between 1.4 to 1.6, as opposed to 1.2, as you would expect from seasonal flu. A reproductive value of 1 means that the virus population is neither increasing or shrinking.

    One of the big problems that we have in healthcare is that, due to the scare, people with seasonal flu also believe they may have swine flu, so will take precautions they normally wouldn't such as going to A&E. This means that rather than 5 people with swine flu coming in, we end up with an additional 5 people with seasonal flu too. This escalates the panic as it creates the perception that 10 people have swine flu, and so the cycle worsens.

    Not sure I've really answered any of your questions at all there but some additional info never hurts! As much as we say the media scare hasn't helped us, on the other hand, I can't help but think that the 'panic' has made people far more aware of personal hygiene and therefore slowed the rate of infection… even if they are still coming to A&E infecting us all… ;-)

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  17. Swine Flu » Current News Trends Says:

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  18. JoT Says:

    Do let us know if the new swine flu hotline helps to calm things down for you guys!

    There was an interesting article on the Beeb this morning about the ethics of an overcrowded intensive care unit:

  19. Hel Says:

    The problem with the swine flu hype at the moment is if you have another serious problem and want to be seen by a doctor they automatically assume it is swine flu and refuse treatment. My husband had this problem after suffering from a chest infection (after a boating incident) which has got progressively worse. I called NHS 24 and just because some of the symptoms were checked off against swine flu he was told it was suspected swine flu and told by the doctor to take paracetamol and rest in bed. Now he has got to a stage where he is having problems breathing. He doesn't want to go to hospital for the reasons mentioned but everywhere we turn help has been turned away.

  20. Eileen Says:

    Remember the Atchoo post a bit back? My daughter is a paramedic and had transported 2 possible piggy flu patients the week before last with the usual "mask and plastic apron" protection. A "higher up" broke it to them that they might get it – her comment was "how am I supposed to know if I have the symptoms? My hay fever is so bad I've got all the symptoms anyway!"
    BTW – I'm in the USA at present, returning at the weekend. Am I really returning to panic city?

  21. greenandblue Says:

    I have to say I don't care if I get it. In fact if I do get it I'd rather get it now instead of when it will apparently turn into this super killing flu as hopefully I'd build up an immunity.

    Also I have a feeling the ambulance calling may get worse after a column in the Sun today said 999 was for a blue-flashing-light taxi to take you to hospital when your too ill for someone else to take you OR there isn't someone else available! Have they not heard of regular taxi's?

  22. Clint. Says:

    Correct me if I'm wrong please, but swine flu could also mutate the other way, it may be come less of a problem this winter?

  23. Jen Says:

    An old school friend of mine got swine flu. Her and her two kids have been quarantined and friends have been dropping off food parcels at her door, and through the wonder of Facebook we've been keeping in touch with her. At no point did she call an ambulance, or even think about it. She and the kids felt like crap, sure, but they were still breathing, still walking.

    It amazes me what some people think constitutes an emergency worthy of an ambulance being sent out. I'm no stranger to hospital trips myself and I've always gotten there under my own steam (even when I was having "chest pains" which I, the NHS Direct woman, and the paramedic I spoke to pretty much agreed it wasn't likely to be anything to do with my heart). The only time it was deemed "important" enough for an ambulance was when I was in Uni halls and showed a bunch of symptoms for meningitis.

    The media have whipped this up into such a storm, publicising each and every death, that it's no wonder people are hitting the big red panic button every time they sniffle. And the stupid rules, put in place to prevent there being just one bad outcome, mean that you're having to deal with people you should just be able to say NO to.

  24. Erin Says:

    I can understand this totally, and I sympathise a great deal. I'm also the type who will try every other option to death before I even consider getting myself to hospital, let alone think of calling 999.
    Though I know you're a level headed woman and likely know what I'm going to say, please, please, please don't hesitate to call an ambulance if his breathing gets worse. If he is having difficulty speaking between breaths, not just hurting or block nose type difficulty. If he cannot string a full sentence together without taking a breath and this is not the norm for him, you really need to get him help. I just wish swine flu wasn't so hyped up, because you are right, while the over-reactors get all the attention, the people who really need the help get forgotten.

    It's all so annoying, I just don't understand why people think bringing their contagious infection into a building with way more sick people is a way to get help. There's enough basic information out there, can't they read? listen? think?

  25. | cystic acne treatment Says:

    I have a relative who got the Swine Flu in Mexico. It is a good thing that he already recovered from this disease.

  26. lou lou Says:

    Here's a link to mentioned Sun article. Nice of them to view trained ambulance staff as glorified taxi drivers!

  27. Carol Says:

    A friend of mine called the other day to tell me her young child had been 'confirmed' with swine flu and had been prescribed with Tamiflu from a helpline. He had not seen a doctor. That was on Monday morning. By Wednesday the child was fine, no symptoms, their normal self. Does this drug work this quickly, or was it a misdiagnosis due to the panic surrounding this issue at the moment. Being a mother of five myself, I know children can be up and down with ailments all the time. My worry is will this 'precautionary' prescribing of a strong anti viral drug lower the immunity of the prescribee for the future, if they did not actually have the illness in the first place. Surely this type of illness can only be confirmed by laboratory testing.

  28. Percocet Says:

    Let's hope that they find already a vaccine for this virus of influenza that this hurting many people in the world, really it is unusual that still do not have anything to offset it, in findrxonline there is a topic on the influenza and indicates that already it goes mas of 17000 deceased in the world for this disease.

  29. greenandblue Says:

    I'd say a sad fact of life is that this likely over prescribing of Tamiflu is probably going to be like GPs shooting themselves in the foot. All it will do is speed up the process of the virus becoming resistant to Tamiflu.

  30. lou lou Says:

    I wonder Carol did your friend get tamiflu for her child at the very first symptoms of the illness? Did she not try normal paracetamol, fluids and rest and see how he went? My understanding is that tamiflu both eases the symptoms of flu and helps stop the spread of the virus, thus quickening the recovery time. Tamiflu however comes with possible side effects like all medications, possible nausea and vomiting. If my children become ill I think I'd be more patient and see how they coped for the first 24hrs or so and treat the symptoms as I would a usual bout of cold/flu and keeping the unwell child away from the others.

  31. Hel Says:

    Hi Erin,
    Thankyou for your reply and yes its exactly how both of us feel and I really thought I should have called 999 that day. I'm keeping an eye on him! I'm asthmatic and epileptic so I know what constitutes an emergency situation, a sniffly nose, hmmmm! The annoying thing is NHS24 and our local nurse ran through this list with us and we even told the nurse that he had turned blue but it was dismissed as if he was making it up. I feel that the situation going on (like you say) is there are so many people "crying wolf" it is hard to tell the real from the hypochondriacs so the medical profession are having a hard time keeping everything at bay.

  32. Catherine Says:

    Hopefully, this will pass.

    I remember earlier this year when it first hit the US – for about two weeks, everyone was terrified and convinced they were going to get it and die. Then nothing happened, barely anyone died (about as much as would have from seasonal flu), and everyone calmed down.

    I didn't even realize it was still an issue anywhere until I stumbled across your blog.

  33. Tom Says:

    I made a comment on this site earlier, as I thought the furore about swine-flu was yet another over-reaction to a nasty bug. My humour was woefully misplaced.

    The reality is that there is no effective plan in place to deal with it, and therefore it has devolved down to the emergency services to cope with the epidemic. Like the paramedic at the end of his tether, when I was operational, I shared the same fears. And likewise I had a young family.

    During a particularly virulant flu I found myself, along with other colleagues doubling up on shifts, just to keep a front-line motor on line. Dutifully, we turned out to the shouts, but just one or two generations ago, a flu call was a rarity.

  34. Fed Up Says:

    Someone posted about whether the swine flu line takes the burden off the ambulance services and nhs, i can safely say it doesnt, alot of people are ringing it and are being told to dial 999 its probably doubled our work load

  35. Arwen Says:

    Just wondering if you'd seen this, and if you could tell us something about how you deal with panicky people

  36. dassia2005 Says:

    I phoned the helpline cos my son had a fever, dry cough, headache and sore throat. They didnt even want to know his symptons – they went through a checklist and then told me to phone 999!i I asked on what basis had he come to that conclusion and he just said 'thats what it says here'. I asked to speak to someone else who also advised me to call 999. I tried to tell the guy that my son did not seem that unwell but he kept saying that his chart was saying call 999! Obviously I didnt – but I bet there are loads of people that are. I got straight on the web and did the on-line sympton checker and that recommended a course of Tamiflu. And by the way, the first person I spoke to at the helpline had such a poor command of English that we couldnt understand each other at all. What a joke!

  37. wannabeparamedic Says:

    i work for the gp ooh service in wales as a call handler im also a first responder for the welsh ambulance service as well, i have to say the gps cannot handle the amount of volume of calls that they are getting, every1 i have spoke to today in work think they have swine flu, the normal 60 minute max call back time has been increased to 2 hours, we have even had people phoning back saying they want an ambulance, every thinks they have got swine flu when maybe it is just the normal flu, at this time i really do feel sorry for the doctors and every1 is trying to help but people are just painicking,
    anyway keep up the good job

  38. G E O Says:

    Why have the media and the government co-operated in this matter? They have both caused mass panic over what we are told is a very mild flu.

    This is being hyped up by politicians for their own ends. I am highly cynical of their reasons. I do not believe that they have my interests at heart, This is a job for conspiracy theorists!

  39. Kate Says:

    I blame the media – this is not (yet??) a serious situation. And the media in this country are criminal in their lack of responsible journalism. Yes people are dying and my heart goes out to anyone who has lost a love one or has had to watch a defenseless child go through this. But statistically the numbers of deaths are not high in the general populace
    My feeling has always been that the British Government is totally incapbale of dealing with any kind of serious emergency which puts people like Suzi and her colleagues in the most horrendous of positions of having to deal with idiot people and maybe in a few months with a real crisis. The governement response….. a stupid leaflet. People need to be told factually what to expect, simply what to do and how to react, not hysterical media hyperbole or bland , contradictory civil-servant platitudes.
    I lived in Hong Kong through bird flu twice and SARS, I know how bad things can get and how fast. So lets not waste our resouces like Suzi and the ambulence crews.

  40. Flora Gardens Says:

    When I took calls, prior to going on the road, the guy who trained me taught me a very two very handy tricks to deal with rude, offensive and generally twatty callers. He told firstly me that the ruder the caller is, the more polite I should become. Callers have a habit of forgetting that they are effing and blinding at the call-taker, and they then start threatening to make a complaint against the call-taker for rudeness!!! Secondly, he taught me that the more the caller shouts, the quieter I should become, mainly because they begin to realise they are getting nowhere fast, and eventually shut up and let the call-taker talk!!

  41. Lozzlepop Says:

    I'm with the media blaming people. I'm a call handler for NHS24 and our call volumes are up 50% on projected, even with the Scottish Flu Response lot (who are running out of one of our centres up here) on full tilt. I think if the media could advise people in a calm way what they should do in the part of the UK they are in life would be much easier for all concerned – I've had a lot of people trying to get through to the English system and vice versa. The flu questions we ask are all fairly relevant – they help us to weed out anyone in high risk groups or anyone who is far more ill than would be expected, and only a couple of them will create ambulance related outcomes. Overall I think "Keep Calm and Carry On" really is the best course of action.

    I have also had the piggy flu, about a month ago and it was much less unpleasant than the seasonal flu I had a couple of years ago and the side effects from the Tamiflu were actually worse than the symptoms.

  42. Bex Says:

    I think this whole ting has been blown out of proportion! Not only that, but I'm sure half the reason people are calling ambulances is because gp surgeries won't let them in. I had tonsilitis a couple of weeks ago (normal for me, amoxicillin clears it up within 4-7 days depending how long I wait til I see GP), and was refused access to a gp, as 'it might be swine flu'. I asked if I could speak to the gp so I might be able to discuss it with someone trained, and was told he was too busy (probably true). By last week I had no choice but to attend a and e as my throat was so bad I had no voice and could barely swallow ice cold water. I felt awful for the hospital staff, they sholdn't be dealing with these things, and neither should the paramedics.

    You should be there for the people having a fatal MI, or victims of an RTA. The NHS needs to give ALL its various facets the same policy- stay home and collect tamiflu. It sounds as though you are all getting different guidelines, and of course when people can't get an answer, they always dial 999

  43. testking Says:

    really thanks for sharing this article. I think it is really aggravating circumstance.

  44. NJ EMS Says:

    We hear you in NJ EMS….same thing is going on here as well.

  45. Daniel Says:

    I came down with the regular flu around this time, it was just a simple call to my GP to arrange for an emergency callback, gave him my symptoms and that was it… If there had been more of the symptoms, i would have been shitting it!!! No way in hell would I want to have the tamiflu and have all of the disgusting side effects that come with it.

    Nee Naw
    Nee Naw was a blog about life in the London Ambulance Service control room. It was written by Suzi Brent from 2005 to 2010. The blog is no longer being updated, but the archives will remain here.
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