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A Flu Friend in the UK-How the NHS Fights the Swine Flu October 15, 2009

Posted by Admin in Health Insurance.
Tags: , , , , ,

Remember the song, “You’ve Got a Friend”? The UK has a swine flu readiness plan that calls for the patient to have a “flu friend” to help out. How does this really work?  The story broke this summer, but a friend of mine was just recently called to serve. Here’s the story, as told to me:

“The UK has a nationwide readiness plan for the pandemic. If you think you have swine flu then you call a 24 hour hotline or go to the NHS website where you either fill out a form yourself or get talked through one on the phone. The questionnaire goes through your symptoms and if you hit enough of them you are considered to have swine flu.

[picapp src=”1/e/d/8/The_Post_Office_b568.jpg?adImageId=6138579&imageId=4722834″ width=”234″ height=”310″ /]You are then given an ID number and the address of the nearest pharmacy stocking Tamiflu. The sick person is not meant to leave their house but instead supposed to get a “flu friend” to run errands for them. The flu friend goes to the pharmacy and takes along the poorly person’s ID, proof of address, and ID number from the website/phone call as well as their own ID.

So I went to the pharmacy, said “Hi, I’m here to get Tamiflu for my friend?” Handed over the various ID’s and whatnot that went on to another form and 10 minutes later got the Tamiflu. For free. [emphasis added]

This only works once, which is what all the ID’s and whatnot are for. There has been some hullabaloo about the fact that some boroughs have a lot more pharmacies stocking the drug or whatever but mine is one of the less supplied boroughs and that sure was easy. It was about a 9 minute walk from my friend’s house. The sick person doesn’t leave their home cutting down on spreading the flu, they don’t clog up their GP’s office, there *IS* a National readiness plan, and it is so well advertised that two not particularly observant college grads knew exactly what to do. Neither of us really read papers, we don’t have TV’s, I don’t listen to the radio- and yet we knew what to do.”

Let’s recap the benefits of the UK plan:

  • Effective marketing plan-but we don’t know what worked
  • Self diagnosis on web or via telephone to discern symptoms
  • Flu patient doesn’t have to leave home
  • Tamiflu available for pick up by the “flu friend” at a convenient neighborhood pharmacy
  • It’s free for the patient

To compare and contrast, I searched for 24 hour flu hotline that I could use in the US:

  • The local county number was a recording and referred me to my health care provider, unless I didn’t have insurance, in which case I could go to a clinic-where I would not have to reveal my immigration status. No live person at midnight.
  • The state number, staffed by a live person assured me that this number was only for institutions, not individuals.
  • The federal number (at the CDC), was staffed by another cheerful person, who indicated that” they did not diagnose over the phone”. Their suggestion was to contact my health care provider at midnight or to go to the emergency room. Emergency room for primary care? Right, that is SOP in this country. I could have called the “Nurse-Line” for my insurance plan, but have wisely decided to go to bed, as I don’t currently have the swine flu.

How exactly am I better off under this system? Hmmm.

  • ($100 co-pay for my insurance at least), plus the Tamiflu cost;
  • Inconvenient
  • Delays treatment or provides it at the highest possible marginal cost.



1. peopleandthingsthatannoyme - October 15, 2009

At least they have a plan……the ‘plan’ here in Kuwait is to send everyone home with Fludrex, tell them they have an Upper Respiratory Tract Infection and not test anyone OR give vaccines OR give antivirals….meanwhile the Minister of Health publicizes his trip to the UK to work closely in tandem with hospitals there…..bullshit, he’s gone shopping. And meanwhile OUR kids get sicker and sicker. I know of Four teachers out with ‘a bad cold’ at the minute. One can’t walk and was told to lie down and have a hot drink.

2. Casey - October 16, 2009

the ads for the “flu friend” business are all over the public transport- signs on the tube, signs on bus stops, signs on the sides of buses, and full page ads in the free newspapers that people leave lying around transport stations.

3. Be well, or it will bankrupt you - October 17, 2009

The first death of the Seattle flu season happened this week – 20 something programmer who lived alone. He had an underlying problem but I bet he could have used a Flu Friend.

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