SERIOUSLY ill people who can’t be helped could be discharged from hospital if the local NHS is overwhelmed by swine flu.
Health bosses say they must plan for the nightmare scenario but insist this possibility is “remote”.
The revelation that tough decisions will have to be faced was disclosed in a summary of advice given to rural GP practices at a meeting in Christleton briefed by Dr Maureen Swanson, medical director of NHS Western Cheshire.
It reads: “Discussions are being undertaken on identifying patients who won’t be given critical or continuing care during a pandemic.Š
“Care may be given to those who would benefit most, not necessarily those who are most seriously ill.”
Another document says the Countess of Chester Hospital is putting together surge plans, “to establish a priority of who will receive critical care”.Š
Police will provide security at a secret warehouse where vaccines will be stored and at the distribution centres in case of civil unrest.
Helen Bellairs, chief executive of NHS Western Cheshire, who chairs the swine flu strategic coordinating group, is open about the difficult decisions which could lie ahead.
She said: “We have got to plan for the worst case scenario, so whatever is thrown at you, you can handle it.
“The possibility of that happening is remote but it would be wrong to ignore the fact that if 100% of the population had it and 100% were sick, some would not be in hospital.”
She said arrangements would be made to care for people in their own homes but compared the theoretical worst case scenario to war-time.
Asked if people could be sent home to die, she replied: “It’s difficult to say ‘no’. In a war zone you triage people on the basis of what you are able to do.
“Those people who will die any way, you probably don’t treat in a war, you treat those who are going to survive.”
Anti-virals are offered to people clinically diagnosed with swine flu but the NHS is no longer swabbing patients so it is impossible to know how many actually have the virus.
So far 887 anti-virals have been handed out in western Cheshire – a relatively low figure.