Britain 'wouldn't cope with bird flu'

Last updated at 10:26 31 March 2006

Health experts have criticised Government plans for dealing with a possible bird flu pandemic, saying staff would be over-stretched and wards overflowing with critical cases.

The bird flu virus could trigger a flu pandemic across the UK if the virus mutates into a form that can be passed between humans.

Richard Marsh, critical care specialist at Northampton General Hospital, said the demands of pandemic flu on intensive care units would be extremely difficult to meet.

He said: "A large district hospital serving a population of 330,000 could expect more than 10 extra requests a day for several weeks at the peak of the epidemic."

He added patients would probably require more than four to five times the number of intensive care beds than already available in UK hospitals.

Intensive care staff would also be at particularly high risk of becoming infected, he added and agency staff would be unable to make up any deficiencies.

Anthony Harnden of the University of Oxford also warned in the British Medical Journal that GPs were suffering "information overload and are in danger of not being able to see the wood for the trees".

Hilary Pickles, from Hillingdon Primary Care Trust, argued that there needed to be more openness when dealing with the public, after experiences of BSE and foot and mouth disease.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said: "Preparing for a flu pandemic is a top priority and we have strong plans in place to respond.

"Our plans include building a stockpile of 14.6 million doses of anti-viral drugs to treat those who fall ill during a pandemic.

"We have also asked every NHS Trust in the country to draw up a contingency plan to respond to a flu pandemic."

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