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Bird flu warning link

A QUARTER of doctors and nurses in Barnsley are expected to fall ill, throwing Barnsley's health service into chaos, if a bird flu pandemic sweeps the borough, health chiefs have warned. At the same time more than 11,000 extra patients would be likely to call on GPs for an appointment - most of them home visits - during the expected eight-week course of any outbreak.
Now Barnsley Primary Care Trust has published its plan for coping with the disease in the wake of concern over the lethal H5N1 flu strain which has spread to Europe from its original hotspot in south-east Asia. A report backed by Paul Redgrave, the borough's director of public health and 'flu co-ordinator', outlines strict infection control methods including gloves, aprons and face masks to be worn by all health care workers in close contact with patients. Barnsley Hospital is expected to be working at maximum capacity for a long period, with a predicted 355 extra admissions, and extra mortuary space would be prepared to cope with a predicted 230 deaths from flu. Social Services would also be on high alert to help care for vulnerable people left without essential care if their health worker falls ill. The report states family, friends and neighbours would be asked to pitch in as informal carers in the event of a shortage of workers. And recently-retired and part-time staff could be asked to return full-time. In the community, school closures would be expected and up to a quarter of all public sector workers would be likely to be off work for up to eight days. Dr Redgrave said: "The virus has not acquired the ability to pass easily from person to person. Should it be able to H5N1 would be meet all the criteria of a pandemic flu strain. "An influenza pandemic will cause widespread social and economic disruption. Emergency planning is an ongoing process. A considerable amount of work is still required, particularly related to anti-viral distribution and continuity in Primary Care." Dr Kevin Perret, Barnsley's consultant in communicable diseases, said it was inevitable a new strain would strike at some point. He added: "A pandemic is not likely soon, but it is inevitable and it will have major consequences. Life will go on but it would be very disruptive. We will all have to work together. "All public institutions have contingency plans for dealing with a crisis, including coping with high levels of staff absence." 14 February 2006


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