An Internet scheme to monitor flu outbreaks and alert hospitals has been launched in the North West region.

For the next five months, more than 70 GP practices across the region will report the number of consultations for flu or similar viruses to a database. The data will be published on the North West Public Health Observatory website.

Director of public health Professor John Ashton said it was the first time a region had provided such a database, which would allow managers to predict likely admissions to hospital.

Regional epidemiologist Professor Qutub Syed said: 'This will be an early warning system to let health authorities know which are the worst-hit areas and which age group is predominantly affected.'

It would 'enable resources to be diverted to areas with the highest incidence of hospital admissions'.