Norfolk has good access to flu drug
Health bosses have reassured patients that they have full access to medication for swine flu as it is revealed Norfolk has more antiviral collection centres than most other counties in the UK.
By SARAH HALL
Health bosses have reassured patients that they have full access to medication for swine flu as it is revealed Norfolk has more anti-viral collection centres than most other counties in the UK.
Some 30 pharmacies have been identified as being able to provide Tamiflu in the NHS Norfolk area as well as the recently opened 24-hour anti-viral collection point (ACP).
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New data from the Department of Health has revealed there is widespread variation in the number of ACPs in different parts of the country. An analysis showed that in 10 primary care trusts - NHS Norfolk included - there are more than 30 collection points but in 47 primary care trusts there is only one.
More than 5,200 courses of anti-virals have been given out in the county during July, out of a supply of about 90,000 - more than enough to treat the population of Norfolk, according to the county's director of public health.
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Dr John Battersby said: "In order to make swine flu anti-virals accessible to patients who need them, we have identified the pharmacies across the NHS Norfolk area which will be able to issue the medication.
"NHS Norfolk also recently announced the opening of a dedicated 24-hour ACP in Norwich, which offers an alternative collection point and relieves some pressure on pharmacies.
"The reason we have this number of ACPs is because Norfolk is a rural county and many of our ACPs are fairly small independent pharmacies. We wish to ensure that there is equality when trying to access the anti-virals, no matter where the patient lives in NHS Norfolk's area.
"While these ACPs have been strategically opened to ensure equal access for people, NHS Norfolk will endeavour to open more should demand reflect it."
The Department of Health has asked that details of the location of collection points should not be released to the public because they "do not want people to go to anti-viral collection points who do not need them".
However, fears were yesterday raised that swine flu could become resistant to Tamiflu, the only drug that can treat the virus, because it is being over-prescribed.
Dr Peter Holden, the British Medical Association's lead authority on pandemic flu, said he thought the thresholds for issuing Tamiflu had been set too low, a policy which he fears will come back to haunt the Department of Health if the H1N1 swine virus becomes resistant to Tamiflu. The GP, based in Matlock, Derbyshire, helped draft the clinical algorithm used by operators on the National Pandemic Flu Service telephone line, but said doctors are being encouraged to dish out a "pill for every ill".
However, NHS Norfolk said that while the opening of the 24-hour ACP improved access for patients it had not meant "too many" were being prescribed the drug.
"NHS Norfolk has already had a significant stock of anti-virals delivered and more is expected to be delivered in the near future, so there is no need to be concerned about stocks running low," he said. "We are confident that we will have enough stock to treat any patient in Norfolk who needs anti-virals.
"Since the opening of our 24-hour Anti-viral Collection Point (ACP), it has acted as an alternative to our current number of 30 pharmacy-based ACPs but has not caused a rise in the rate of anti-virals being issued."
The reassurance comes as the government has been criticised for failing to confirm that the NHS can cope with the "second wave" of swine flu expected to hit the UK in the autumn.
Hospitals and GP surgeries in Norfolk said they are "well prepared" and regularly carry out emergency exercises to ensure they are ready for the "worst possible scenario".
Anyone concerned they may be displaying swine flu symptoms should use the National Pandemic Flu Service on 0800 1 513 100 or log on to the service's website at www.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu