NHS Direct ‘at breaking point’: Patients waiting two days for help in worst flu outbreak for ten years

Winter always comes as a surprise to British bureaucrats. They never seem to prepare for it

The NHS Direct helpline is at ‘breaking point’ as parts of Britain experience the worst flu outbreak in a decade. Patients calling the service are being forced to wait up to two days before they can speak to a nurse, and managers have launched an emergency recruitment drive. GPs in the worst-affected areas are being paid up to £188 an hour to work over Christmas and help deal with soaring numbers of cases.

Infection rates have doubled over the last week and more than 300 patients are fighting for their lives in intensive care, the vast majority suffering from swine flu.

But despite the growing crisis, ministers and leading doctors insist the outbreak is ‘no worse than usual’. Earlier this week Health Secretary Andrew Lansley told a Cabinet meeting that although figures were slightly up on last year, they were no higher compared with two years ago.

Dame Sally Davies, the interim Chief Medical Officer, has repeatedly insisted that the illness is ‘just winter flu’. Yet doctors in some parts of the country including Leicester and the East Midlands warn they are seeing the worst outbreak in ten years.

There are three strains of flu circulating this winter – swine flu or H1N1, influenza B and H2N3. Experts say swine flu is far more prevalent than the other two strains, and is proving more deadly. So far this winter there have been 17 confirmed flu deaths, and 14 of the victims had swine flu.

The latest infection rate figures show that there are now 87.1 cases per 100,000 people, up from 32.8 per 100,000 last week. Children aged five to 14 are the worst affected, followed by those under four, according to the Royal College of GPs.

Over the last few days the number of calls to NHS Direct has soared by 50 per cent and senior nurses say the helpline is ‘at breaking point’. Last weekend up to 46,000 people called the service, the equivalent of almost 960 an hour.

Callers are categorised as Priority 1, 2 or 3, depending on the severity of the illness, and are then called back by a nurse who advises them on treatment.

Last week a third of ‘Priority 3’ callers – including those with swine flu or norovirus, the ‘winter vomiting bug’ – waited longer than two hours for a call back, and for some the delay was as long as two days. Up to 40 per cent of ‘Priority 2’ callers, such as those with broken bones, waited longer than an hour before speaking to a nurse.

Even the most urgent cases – including suicidal patients or parents fearing their baby has meningitis – are being forced to wait longer than 20 minutes to speak to a nurse.

Managers are urgently trying to recruit more workers and staff are being hauled in on their days off or from their Christmas holidays to help man the phones. Staff are being asked to take calls from home and are also being encouraged not to take allocated breaks.

One senior nurse told the Mail: ‘This is by far the worst it has ever been. People have not been receiving call backs for 48 hours – it’s appalling. ‘I am concerned about the way the public are being treated. They are not getting the support they need. When they call us about themselves or a relative, they want to speak to someone quickly, not two days later.’

She said the nurses were being put under increasing strain and were expected to take ‘call after call without a break’.

Although NHS Direct insists that 99 per cent of the most urgent ‘Priority 1’ cases are getting through to a nurse within the target time of 20 minutes, staff admit that increasing numbers are being forced to wait longer. The senior nurse added: ‘Sometimes there are 30 Priority 1 cases backing up. It is very stressful.’

Last week there were 5,675 more calls to NHS Direct compared with the same week last year.

Up to 40 per cent of staff at NHS Direct are qualified nurses and the remainder are operators who have undergone a small amount of training in handling calls and offering advice.

Nick Chapman, NHS Direct chief executive, said: ‘We apologise if people have had to wait longer than expected to receive a call back from us at this busy time. ‘Like the rest of the health service, NHS Direct is extremely busy at this time of year, and last weekend the telephone service received 50 per cent more calls than forecast.

‘The excessively cold weather creates demand for health care generally, and in particular for telephone services that you do not need to leave the house to access.’


Baby fighting for life with swine flu sent home from hospital with indigestion medicine

This is the five-week-old baby fighting for his life with swine flu after doctors twice told his parents he was only suffering from indigestion.

Harvey Flanagan became the latest victim of the disease after a surge in the number of cases which has seen infection rates top those at the height of last winter’s pandemic.

He was last night in a serious but stable condition at the same hospital that is treating nine-year-old Chantelle McAdam, who was also taken to intensive care after being struck down by the deadly infection.

Harvey Flanagan is the latest victim in a surge of swine flu cases in Greater Manchester.

Harvey’s parents spoke of their anger that doctors initially sent him home with medication for indigestion, saying it was only when he ‘turned blue’ that the severity of his condition was noticed. ‘It breaks my heart to say this, but if we weren’t persistent I don’t think Harvey would be here now,’ said his father Andrew, 29. ‘It’s a good job that we listened to our instincts.’

Mr Flanagan and his partner, Michelle Dyer, 23, first took their son to Stepping Hill Hospital near their home in Stockport, Greater Manchester, at the start of last week on the recommendation of their GP after he became poorly.

They say he had breathing problems but they waited for more than an hour to see a doctor. Because Harvey was struggling to feed, he was sent home with indigestion treatment Gaviscon Infant, which can be taken by babies under 12 months if prescribed by a doctor.

The following night, as his breathing worsened and he began to turn pale, they took him back again, but were sent home within two hours. ‘We were made to feel like we were overprotective,’ said Mr Flanagan.

Last Thursday they took him to Tameside Hospital. This time doctors realised Harvey was seriously ill and he was transferred to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital where he has been on a life support machine ever since with swine flu and bronchiolitis.

‘He has had four days of intensive treatment and there has been some improvement,’ said Miss Dyer. ‘We are so angry and upset that we nearly lost our son. We couldn’t bear other parents going through what we have.’

The couple are keeping a vigil at the hospital along with daughter Amelia, three. Eight people from the Greater Manchester area have died so far this winter after contracting the H1N1 virus.

Stockport NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Stepping Hill, said it was investigating claims made by the family.

Yesterday it emerged that almost one in ten intensive care beds across Britain is currently occupied by a flu sufferer.


Christian British health worker could be fired for handing out books on risks of abortion

A Christian health worker is facing the sack for giving a colleague a booklet about the potential dangers of abortion. Margaret Forrester was ‘bullied’ and ‘treated like a criminal’ after she handed the pro-life leaflet to a family planning worker at an NHS centre.

Miss Forrester, 39, said she offered the booklet during a private conversation, because she felt the NHS did not give enough information about the potential risks. It told of the physical and psychological problems suffered by five women after terminating pregnancies. But her NHS employers have launched disciplinary action against her and she fears she could lose her job. Miss Forrester, a Roman Catholic, has been accused of ‘distributing materials some people may find offensive’.

It is the latest example of Christians facing disciplinary action for expressing religious views.

Miss Forrester attended an internal disciplinary hearing yesterday, but will not be told the outcome until January, meaning she faces Christmas without knowing whether she will lose her job. She said: ‘My pro-life views do come from my Christian belief, but a lot of people have a religion. It’s not a criminal offence. ‘A religious opinion is expressed in the booklet, so therefore it’s not entirely neutral, but I believe women considering abortion should have a full range of information.’

Miss Forrester has worked for the NHS for six years and is a mental health worker at the Central North West London Mental Health Trust, in Camden, North London. In early November she gave two copies of the booklet called Forsaken – Women From Taunton Talk About Abortion to a female colleague with whom she had been discussing the information offered to patients.

It features five women who have experienced what it describes as ‘post-abortion syndrome’, including depression, relationship issues, suicidal feelings and fertility problems.

Miss Forrester said there was no sign her colleague was offended by the £4 charity leaflet, or by their conversation. But a few days later her manager told her she was being sent home on ‘special leave with full pay’. She was ordered not to see any patients and to stay away from any NHS site while the trust investigated.

Miss Forrester was then told she had not been suspended and to return to work but claimed she was not allowed to do her normal job. Instead she was put on other duties, which she found ‘bullying and offensive’, adding: ‘I felt physically sickened by their bullying.’ She was eventually signed off on sick leave and has not been back to the health centre since.

After her hearing, Miss Forrester said: ‘There is an authoritarian management at work here, which is encroaching on very basic freedoms. It is a kangaroo court.’

NHS advice says ‘repeated abortions’ can cause damage to the womb, which can result in fertility problems. Its website says research suggests abortion does not lead to psychological problems, ‘however, some women can feel sad or guilty after an abortion, and post-abortion counselling services are widely available’.

Miss Forrester’s case is backed by the Christian Legal Centre, whose director Andrea Minichiello Williams said: ‘The level of intolerance in the public sphere, particularly in public sector employment, is deeply worrying and suggests we are living in a society that is less and less free.’

Earlier this year, nurse Shirley Chaplin, 54, lost a tribunal over her right to wear a crucifix at work.

Lillian Ladele, a registrar with Islington Council in North London, lost a case at the Appeal Court in which she argued she was entitled to refuse to conduct gay civil partnership ceremonies because they were against her beliefs. She has since left her job.

A spokesman from the NHS trust said she could not comment on internal disciplinary cases.


‘Christmas is evil’: Muslim group launches poster campaign against festive period

Fanatics from a banned Islamic hate group have launched a nationwide poster campaign denouncing Christmas as evil. Organisers plan to put up thousands of placards around the UK claiming the season of goodwill is responsible for rape, teenage pregnancies, abortion, promiscuity, crime and paedophilia. They hope the campaign will help ‘destroy Christmas’ in this country and lead to Britons converting to Islam instead.

Labour MP and anti racist campaigner Jim Fitzpatrick branded the posters ‘extremely offensive’ and demanded they were immediately ripped down. The placards, which have already appeared in parts of London, feature an apparently festive scene with an image of the Star of Bethlehem over a Christmas tree.

But under a banner announcing ‘the evils of Christmas’ it features a message mocking the song the 12 Days of Christmas. It reads: ‘On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me an STD (sexually transmitted disease). ‘On the second day debt, on the third rape, the fourth teenage pregnancies and then there was abortion.’

According to the posters, Christmas is also to responsible for paganism, domestic violence, homelessness, vandalism, alcohol and drugs. Another offence of Christmas, it proclaims, is ‘claiming God has a son’.

The bottom of the poster declares: ‘In Islam we are protected from all of these evils. We have marriage, family, honour, dignity, security, rights for man, woman and child.’

The campaign’s organiser is 27-year-old Abu Rumaysah, who once called for Sharia Law in Britain at a press conference held by hate preacher leader Anjem Choudary, the leader of militant group Islam4UK.

Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson banned Islam4UK group earlier this year, making it a criminal offence to be a member, after it threatened to protest at Wootton Bassett, the town where Britain honours its war dead.

Mr Rumaysah told the Mail that he was unconcerned about offending Christians. He said: ‘Christmas is a lie and as Muslims it is our duty to attack it. ‘But our main attack is on the fruits of Christmas, things like alcohol abuse and promiscuity that increase during Christmas and all the other evils these lead to such as abortion, domestic violence and crime. ‘We hope that out campaign will make people realise that Islam is the only way to avoid this and convert.’

Mr Rumaysah, who said his campaign was not linked to any group, boasted that the posters would be put up in cities around the country, including London, Birmingham and Cardiff.

The campaign was highlighted by volunteers from a charity which distributes food and presents to pensioners and the lonely at Christmas. Sister Christine Frost, founder of the East London Neighbours in Poplar charity, said: ‘The more posters I saw, the more angry I got. ‘Someone is stirring hatred which leaves the road open to revenge attacks or petrol bombs through letter-boxes.

‘I told the Mayor we are all scared. ‘If we said such things about Muslims, we’d all be hanging from lamp-posts. ‘The posters appear to be professionally printed’.

Poplar and Limehouse MP Mr Fitzpatrick said: ‘These posters are extremely offensive and have upset a lot of people – that’s why we jumped on it and asked the council to remove them. ‘Sister Christine is rooted in the community and doesn’t take offence lightly. ‘But these hate posters really upset her. Christmas is close to her belief.’

A Met Police spokesman said they had received complaints and were investigating.

Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman said the posters had ‘upset and antagonised many residents’. He added: ‘The messages on these posters are offensive and do not reflect the views of the Council or the vast majority of residents.’


Conservative change in Britain

The old Leftist lie that conservatives were simply against all change still has legs even though Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher made it clear by their actions that it was only the simplistic and destructive changes proposed by the Left that conservatives oppose. So it is interesting to see below that Britain’s present-day Conservatives also have lots of changes on their agenda

The Tory-led Coalition sees itself in revolutionary terms. Steve Hilton, who is David Cameron’s political guru, is supposed to have declared: ‘Everything must be changed by 2015. Everything.’ An odd thing, perhaps, for an alleged Conservative to have said.

Then there is Nick Boles, the staunchly Cameroon Tory MP for Grantham, who at a conference last week said that David Cameron and Nick Clegg want their ‘people power’ revolution to unleash ‘chaotic’ effects across the community. That sounds like Mao Zedong on a wild night.

During the election campaign Nick Clegg often said that he plans to ‘change Britain for good’, a call to arms he repeated at the Lib Dem party conference in September. I don’t know about you, but there is quite a lot about Britain which I like, and I am by no means sure that Mr Clegg’s transformed version would be preferable.

There is a good deal of this Maoist-type talk. And if you look at the Coalition’s proposals in various areas, there is a lot of frenetic activity of which Mao, as the creator of ‘permanent revolution’, would have warmly approved.

Andrew Lansley is turning the NHS inside out, though in ­opposition the Tories said another bureaucratic shake-up was the last thing it needed. Michael Gove is trying to create as many ‘free schools’ as ­possible. Ken Clarke is overhauling the judicial and prison systems. Iain Duncan Smith is embarking on the most sweeping welfare reforms for a generation. Eric Pickles wants to transfer powers from councils which think they know best to local communities.

The sheer speed and multiplicity of these reforms, combined with all the revolutionary rhetoric, has led some ­commentators to suggest that the Coalition is more radical even than Margaret Thatcher who, for all her zeal, actually proceeded quite cautiously, particularly during her first term of office.

Some people suggest that the theme uniting these bold plans is a smaller State. I doubt whether this is true. When all the cuts announced by the Chancellor have taken effect in 2015 — and this assumes, possibly wrongly, that they will be rigorously applied — government spending as a proportion of gross national product will have merely returned to the ­levels of 2007. That does not sound like a dramatically smaller State to me.

Others say that localism is another common theme. When Mr Boles enthused about the advantages of chaos he was ­trying to point out the vices of central planning. We can most of us agree with that. But I remain sceptical as to whether the reforms already announced will substantially shift power to local communities. Will electing police chiefs really have such an effect?


British Warmists SHOULD be red-faced

But bare-faced is more like it

Let’s hope Santa isn’t relying on weather forecasts from the U.K. Met Office. The British deep freeze of recent weeks (which has also immobilized much of continental Europe) is profoundly embarrassing for the official forecaster. Just two months ago it projected a milder than usual winter.

This debacle is more than merely embarrassing. The Met Office is front and centre in rationalizing the British government’s commitment to fight catastrophic man-made global warming with more and bigger bureaucracy, so its conspicuous errors raise yet more questions about that “settled” science.

When you’re making confident global projections for the year 2100, you can only be contradicted on the basis of alternative hypotheses, of which the vast majority of people have no comprehension. But pretty much anybody can look out of the window and tell the difference between light drizzle and a snowbank. Moreover, private forecasters strongly disagreed with the Met Office’s winter projections as soon as they were made (which should add fuel to calls for the organization’s privatization).

Yesterday, the British-based Global Warming Policy Foundation, one of the world’s leading advocates for climate objectivity, called on the U.K. government to set up an independent inquiry into the Met Office’s failures. It also wants an examination of the institution’s politicization, although that is hardly likely to come from the very government that is manipulating it. Still, bias can be expensive. Dr. Benny Peiser, the GWPF’s director, noted that the price tag on the country’s unpreparedness for this winter could reach $15-billion.

At the recent Cancun climate meetings, the Met Office presented a study suggesting that the outlook for global climate was, on balance, worse than projected in the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Given its short-range accuracy, this forecast might be taken with a pinch of road salt, or a tot of de-icing fluid.

Significantly, the Met Office is closely associated with the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, home of Climategate. Both organizations are deeply involved with the IPCC. When it comes to the CRU’s crystal ball, one of its official declared a decade ago: “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is.” No danger of that for little Britons this year.

The Met’s blunder follows similar cockups last year and the year before. In February, Met Office scientist Peter Stott declared that 2009 was an anomaly, and that milder and wetter winters were now — for sure — to be expected. He suggested that exceptionally cold British winters such as the one that occurred in 1962-63 were now expected to occur “about once every 1,000 years or more, compared with approximately every 100 to 200 years before 1850.” Now, the Met Office is admitting that the current December may be the coldest in Britain in the past 100 years.

No doubt the warmist crowd will be quick to express outrage at this blatant confusion of global climate with local weather, but that won’t wash. The Met makes its short-term forecasts on the basis of the same brand of massive computer power and Rube Goldberg modelling used to project the global climate. The suggestion that forecasting the climate is easier than forecasting the weather comes into the same category as acknowledging that governments couldn’t run a lemonade stand, but then believing that they can “manage” an economy.

Confusing weather with climate isn’t always condemned by alarmists. In March, Al Gore deemed it disgraceful that “deniers” dared to suggest that North America’s East Coast Snowmageddon in any way undermined the Inconvenient Truth of man-made global warming. More snow was obviously due to man. The very next day, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell declared that the lack of snow at the Vancouver Olympics was due to … man-made global warming.

Another example of one-way theory was provided three months later by climatologist Michael Mann, concoctor of the infamous “Hockey Stick” graph, and one of the reluctant stars of the Climategate emails. In an interview, Mr. Mann claimed that the then current North American heat wave was clear evidence of hand of man. So you see the principle: If it supports the warmist cause, it’s climate; if it doesn’t, it’s just weather.

The Met’s red face comes at the end of a very bad year for climatism. It started with Climategate and ended with the utter collapse of the Kyoto process at Cancun. In between, there was a United Nations report that admitted that the IPCC process was deeply flawed, followed by projections from the International Energy Agency that confirmed that bold commitments to slash fossil fuel use were so much political pollution.

Meanwhile, the vast costs of government promotion of alternatives such as wind and solar have also become increasingly apparent, along with the fact that green jobs are a mirage. Mirages definitely aren’t a problem this week on the runways of Heathrow.


Met Office: memory or honesty deficiency?

Amusing. The Met office says it did not issue a forecast “to the general public”. But it did make a forecast in map format available to all on the net. So when is a forecast available on the net not a public forecast? Search me! The point is, however, that their models clearly failed again, regardless of how “public” their model output was — JR

Dave Britton, the Met Office’s Chief Press Officer, e-mailed the following statement to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF):

“Following the entry on your blog regarding the Met Office please find the Met Office response below:

The Met Office has not issued a seasonal forecast to the public and categorically denies forecasting a ‘mild winter’ as suggested by Boris Johnson in his column in the Daily Telegraph.

Following public research, the Met Office no longer issues long-range forecasts for the general public; instead we provide a monthly outlook on our website, which have consistent and clearly sign-posted the very cold conditions.”

This is all very interesting. Either the Met Office’s left hand doesn’t know what it’s right hand is doing, the Met Office has no idea what is being said by its employees, or the Met Office is playing semantics in a very disingenuous manner. Why? This bit of information issued by the Met Office in October…

“The latest data comes in the form of a December to February temperature map on the Met Office’s website.

The eastern half of England, Cornwall, Scotland and Northern Ireland is in for temperatures above the 3.7C (38.6F) average, more than 2C warmer than last winter.

The map also shows a 40 per cent to 60 per cent probability that western England and Wales will be warmer than 3.7C (38.6F), with a much smaller chance of average or below-average temperatures.”

The piece even goes on to name the Met Office employee who spoke about the map and talked up the effort that had gone into producing the start point for a ‘seasonal forecast‘:

“Helen Chivers, Met Office forecaster, insisted the temperature map takes into account the influence of climate factors such as El Nino and La Nina – five-yearly climatic patterns that affect the weather – but admits this is only a “start point” for a seasonal forecast. She said: “The map shows probabilities of temperatures in months ahead compared to average temperatures over a 30-year period.”

You can read the whole piece on the Daily Express website, including this response from the independent forecaster, Positive Weather Solutions:

“But other experts maintain we are in for another big freeze. Positive Weather Solutions senior forecaster Jonathan Powell said: “It baffles me how the Met Office can predict a milder-than-average winter when all the indicators show this winter will have parallels to the last one.

“They are standing alone here, as ourselves and other independent forecasters are all predicting a colder-than-average winter.

“It will be interesting to see how predictions by the government-funded Met Office compare with independent forecasters.”

So when is a forecast not a forecast? When the Met Office gets it wrong, it seems. Let’s see how they spin this. But for now the words ‘bang to rights’ spring to mind. [“bang to rights” is a British expression meaning roughly “caught red-handed”]


UK: The big freeze death toll hits 300 people every day

Will this make Seth Borenstein’s death count? He recently scraped up a list of deaths due to bad weather which he asserts were caused by global warming. But since warming causes cooling (according to him), I guess the deaths reported below will be added to his list

Just about everybody knows (as mentioned below) that there are more (“excess”) deaths in winter than in summer, however, so Borenstein is off with the fairies anyhow. Warmer weather brings FEWER deaths. But I don’t suppose we can expect much reality contact from the chief environment reporter of the Associated Press

Nearly 300 more people a day died when freezing temperatures hit at the start of this month, new figures show. A total of 11,193 deaths were registered in England and Wales bet­ween December 3 and 10, the Office for National Statistics has revealed.

This is a 21 per cent rise on the previous week, which works out at 282 extra deaths every day.

It has also emerged flu rates have more than doubled in the past week with children the worst-hit. Flu cases in England and Wales rose from 33 per 100,000 people to 87, according to the Royal College of General Practitioners. Infection rates are highest among those aged five to 14, followed by those under four, then people aged 15 to 44.

Age UK called for ministers to bring in an emergency winter plan and tackle fuel poverty and energy efficiency to cut the number of exc­ess deaths in winter. ‘Every winter, tens of thousands of older people die from prevent­able causes. We believe this is an avoidable tragedy we can help to prevent,’ said the charity.

The number of deaths linked to cold weather fell dramatically last winter, despite Britain experiencing what was then one of the worst winters in decades. There were 25,400 ‘excess winter deaths’ in England and Wales between Dec­ember 2009 and March 2010 – 30 per cent down on the previous winter when the weather was milder. It is believed deaths dipped bec­ause flu levels were low.

The Department of Health said it was too early to comment on this year’s rates as figures are compiled from December to March.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley insisted the NHS was prepared. “The winter fuel allowance has been retained and a temporary rise in cold weather payments brought in by the previous government has been made permanent”, he added.


Britain outlaws ID cards: “The bill abolishing the National Identity Scheme is expected to gain royal assent later today. The Home Office said that it expected the identity documents bill would be passed into law on 21 December. As a result, existing ID cards will be invalid for use in a month’s time.”


About jonjayray

I am former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party. The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody
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