Flu crisis putting health services under pressure


The British government yesterday announced details of more than 2,000 initiatives it says are aimed at combating the winter crisis in the National Health Service.

The Health Secretary, Mr Frank Dobson, has published details of how the NHS is going to spend the extra £159 million already announced by the Chancellor, Mr Gordon Brown.

The flu crisis in Britain has forced a hospital to hire a refrigerated lorry trailer as a temporary mortuary to cope with an unexpected increase in deaths.

A spokesman for the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital confirmed that a cold storage trailer was being used to provide additional room for bodies which could not be fitted in the hospital mortuary.

The trailer, which stands outside the hospital, has been specially equipped for its role and temporarily provides 36 extra spaces for bodies which cannot be accommodated in the 80-space mortuary.

A spokesman explained: "We had an unexpected surge of deaths over the Christmas period and so had to put emergency measures in place." He said: "There have been fewer cremations and burials over the festive season and so this has definitely exacerbated the situation."

Medical spokesmen said the epidemic had spread across the West Midlands and at one Wolverhampton hospital about 100 people waiting for specific treatment were put on standby as doctors struggled to cope with demand from flu sufferers.

Major hospitals in South Wales were under growing pressure because of the winter illness. Non-urgent surgery was cancelled at the 500-bed Llandough Hospital, near Cardiff, to provide extra beds for seriously-ill patients with flu and chest infections.

A spokesman for the NorthWest Health Authority said hospitals were still busy but beginning to return to normal levels for the time of year.

More than 45,000 people were forced to cancel Christmas plans and take to their beds over the holiday period - and experts say the numbers could continue to rise over the next few weeks.