CAMPAIGNS: Weekly Web Watch - NHS suffers as millennial flu bug bites

There is now officially a flu epidemic in the UK. According to media reports all areas of the NHS are being stretched and refrigerated lorries have even been set aside to act as emergency mortuaries.

There is now officially a flu epidemic in the UK. According to

media reports all areas of the NHS are being stretched and refrigerated

lorries have even been set aside to act as emergency mortuaries.



The NHS Direct telephone helpline and web site were set up in a blaze of

publicity by Tony Blair last year to ease the strain on GPs. Its web

site offers advice to the public on how to recognise symptoms and treat

themselves if possible. Since many of those who think that they have flu

are often just suffering from a heavy cold, one would think that the

service was tailor-made for this current crisis and, according to news

reports, thousands of people have contacted the web site in connection

with the flu epidemic.



As there have even been reports of young, previously fit victims dying,

one would expect the healthcare guide section of the NHS Direct web site

to have been changed to reflect flu’s current prominence in the news, or

even to flag up a guide to the illness on the home page.



However, accessing the healthcare guide section of NHS Direct on-line

itself is a somewhat tortuous route unless the exact address for the

healthcare guide is known. Any ill person who is relying on search

engines and typing in ’NHS’ or even ’NHS Direct’ to get there will be

frustrated.



Once there, the site looks relatively easy to use with sections such as

’health in the news’, ’conditions and treatment’, and ’frequently asked

questions’. Those interested in self-diagnosis and treatment can use a

’body key’ to establish their symptoms and must then answer the series

of questions relating to their symptoms and follow the advice given. The

visitor must decide whether their symptoms relate to the ’head and

chest’, ’abdomen’, ’limbs’ or the ’skin’ and the answers given prompt

the visitor to three courses of action: ’self care’, ’call NHS Direct’

or ’Dial 999’.



And it is here that confusion could arise if symptoms cross over.

Selecting ’head and chest’ offers advice on colds and flu and visitors

are told that they can treat themselves. The questions include: ’Are you

feeling flushed, hot and sweaty? Is there a high temperature and general

aches and pains?’



But those whose flu or cold symptoms may be mainly aches and pains in

their arms or legs might choose to go to the ’limbs’ section. Here,

however, those with the same temperature (over 38o/100.4o) are advised

to call NHS Direct.



Ultimately anyone who is worried that they have the flu would be able to

find out exactly the same information much faster from other web sites,

such as BBC News, or the plethora of newspaper reports on the

epidemic.



Organisation: The National Health Service

Issue: The flu epidemic

At: http://www.healthcare guide.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/



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