Swine flu call centres to close despite expected surge in demand

Two emergency swine flu call centres are to close within days, even though a second wave of the virus is expected when children return to school in less than two weeks.

Chief medical officer Liam Donaldson has repeatedly stated that swine flu cases are likely to rise in the autumn when schools and universities go back.

But centres in Farnborough, Hants, and Watford, Herts, will shut on Monday due to falls in the demand for the service.

The centres, run by NHS Professionals, employ 1,200 temporary workers.

They were among 19 set up last month as part of the government’s National Pandemic Flu Service to help people get drugs over the phone.

Last week, figures showed a continuing fall in the number of people newly diagnosed with swine flu, with 11,000 new cases reported.

But Katherine Murphy, director of The Patients Association, said: “It seems a nonsense to be closing helplines a week before people return to school.”

An NHS Professionals spokeswoman insisted the facilities remained available should call demand increase during the autumn and winter.

She said: “As a result of much lower than expected call volume to the NPFS call centres, NPFS have decided to reduce capacity and as a result the call centres provided by NHS Professionals will be put on standby and will take no more calls until further notice.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We are scaling back the National Pandemic Flu Service to reflect demand. This is a flexible service so we can scale it back up when necessary.”

Last month, Personnel Today exclusively revealed how the government was considering allowing staff with swine flu two weeks off without a sicknote.

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