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
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
Organisation: The National Health Service
Issue: The flu epidemic
At: http://www.healthcare guide.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/