Hunt defends NHS Directs flu response

13 Jan 00
Health minister Lord Hunt has defended the government's pioneering advice service, NHS Direct, from accusations that it is clogging up A&E departments with flu victims.

14 January 2000

In an interview with Public Finance, Hunt, a former chief executive of the NHS Confederation, denied that NHS Direct added to the pressure on the health service. He said the flu statistics are being under-reported because many people called the advice line instead of seeing a doctor.

'I do not see that NHS Direct is putting more pressure on the NHS. In some cases, people are advised to go to A&E or their GP, in others they are told to stay at home and go to bed,' he said. 'It is quite right that NHS Direct staff advise some people to go to hospital. They do it on the basis of agreed protocols with experienced nursing staff.'

Hunt described the new telephone consultations as 'a fantastic success and a crucial part of the service'.

However, NHS managers continued to call for increased resources as the flu epidemic forced the cancellation of routine operations, adding to current waiting list problems.

Stephen Thornton, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: 'I cannot see how we can get our planning any better than we have got it this year.' Without more resources, the health service would face similar problems in 2001, he said.

Hunt praised the hard work of NHS staff and said the modernisation of the health service was proceeding, albeit slowly: 'The frustration is that it takes so long.'


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