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Policy shift expected

Fergus Walsh | 08:55 UK time, Thursday, 2 July 2009

The Health Secretary Andy Burnham is giving a statement to the Commons later today at which I understand he'll signal a new phase in how H1N1 swine flu is dealt with.

I understand that a move to the so-called "treatment phase" will happen very soon. This will be a UK-wide policy and will unify the approach of the health service in tackling the disease.

At present, there is a flexible approach: GPs in hot-spot areas like London and the West Midlands have stopped swabbing every person who reports swine flu smptoms.

The changes are being made to relieve the pressure on health officials. Those who contact NHS Direct with uncomplicated symptoms will be told to stay at home while arrangements are made for them to get Tamiflu.

This has always been the case, but the need for testing has meant that many have seen either a GP or other health official to confirm the diagnosis.

People who have come into close contact with those infected will no longer be chased up and offered drugs.

This policy will soon be extended UK-wide. I don't have the precise timing, but am told it will be soon.

I should stress that this is NOT a sign that the virus is getting more virulent. It IS an admission that the spread of the virus can no longer be contained. Those who have symptoms will still be offered Tamiflu, although this might eventually be restricted to those most at risk - people with lung, circulation and immune disorders.

For more information on what the treatment phase involves, see a post from last week ("Radical use in antiviral use considered").

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