The health service has been told to prepare for up to 8 per cent of the population suffering from swine flu at any one time - and up to 12 per cent of the NHS workforce.

Thirty per cent of the population could have had the infection by the end of the first wave – expected to be around the end of the winter.

Two per cent of those would have been hospitalised, according to “reasonable worst case” assumptions issued by the government today.

Chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson said up to 12 per cent of the workforce could be absent at any one time.

He said the NHS needed to prepare for between 0.1 - 0.35 per cent of those affected dying – giving a maximum, worst case of 65,000 total deaths from the first wave.

Sir Liam announced the national pandemic flu service, to prescribe antivirals by phone and on the internet, would be launched for England next week to take pressure off services.

Sir Liam said in “hotspots” GPs were being “completely overwhelmed”.

He said: “As a result of the pressure the NHS has been facing, and coping with very well, we are getting advice that they [the NHS] want us to move to the national pandemic flu service.”

National director for NHS flu resilience Ian Dalton said NHS organisations should be using the Department of Health’s new planning assumptions to develop their existing plans.

Particularly he said they should be ready to provide “surge capacity” in critical care, and consider the impact of staff absence.

He said: “Clearly there are huge discussions to be had which are under way with trade unions and front line staff about how we keep services going.”


Managers quietly confident as NHS battles swine flu pandemic