This Swine Flu Plan Is Nuts

A few months ago I waxed lyrical about the British National Health Service, or NHS, which brought my friend back from the edge of eternal darkness. I myself have felt well-inclined towards the NHS for thirty-odd years, but in recent weeks I feel as if I am becoming part of a Monty Python spoof.

First, let us look at the current World Health Organization figures on swine flu, also known as H1N1. As of early August the good news is that Madagascar and Greenland are swine flu-free. The bad news is that the United Kingdom is suffering more cases than most other European countries. Why is this? There appears to be no clinical explanation for this at present, although I could tell readers stories to make their hair stand on end about hygiene in British eating establishments or the latest tales of men urinating in theater aisles during performances.

So this brings me to the government’s pandemic flu strategy. In the popular Evening Standard newspaper's August 3 edition, there is a full two-page spread advising the public on how to deal with symptoms. We are told we must designate a “flu buddy” --- oops, in England this is called a “flu friend.” We are instructed to initiate a complicated string of processes once ill. (Have you, dear reader, ever had really bad flu? Ever felt as if you will die and can barely stagger to the bathroom, only to fall over from fever, the shakes, and delirium?)

This ludicrous ad, which I calculate must have cost the NHS about $400,000, (a tabloid quarter page averages £80,000) tells flu sufferers to stay away from the doctors’ offices and call a helpline. You are then put through a series of questions about your condition, temperature, medical history, current health issues, and symptoms. You will be asked for your address and postcode. If you are not unconscious by the time this is over, you are then -- wait for it -- given an “authorization number.” Incidentally, the person “assessing” your qualification for a “flu authorization number” is one of two thousand folks recently picked from a motley queue of the unemployed who, from what we television-watchers could establish from the interviews given, are largely medically unqualified call center staff.