National flu service to be launched this week
A national flu service will be launched this week, the health secretary Andy Burnham has said.
The phone and website service will provide diagnosis and access to drugs, to prevent people from needing to go to their GP.
Mr Burnham also said a vaccine would be available by the end of August and defended criticism from opposition parties that the launch of the service had come too late.
The service will only be available in England, where there have been 55,000 new cases of swine flu in the last week.
Mr Burnham said: "Technology to launch the service has been available for some time.
"But with these latest figures and drawing on advice from the field we have now reached a point where this service is required.
"To act any sooner would have been a distraction to health staff dealing with it."
Mr Burnham also defended claims there had been conflicting advice given to pregnant women over the last few days.
The Department of Health reissued advice on its website yesterday for mothers-to-be, including urging parents with children under-five to avoid crowds and unnecessary journeys.
New advice is being issued after the death of 39-year-old new mum Ruptara Miah in a London hospital earlier this month. Her baby is said to be very ill in intensive care.
The government has already predicted that, under a worst case scenario, 65,000 people could die from swine flu this winter.
Twenty-nine deaths have been confirmed from the H1N1 virus so far, amid fresh advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for patients with swine flu to avoid travelling and rumours the new school year could be delayed to avoid thousands of children catching the virus.
21 July 2009, 09:46