STUDENT nurses and retired doctors will be thrown into frontline services by health chiefs if swine flu sees hospitals and surgeries struggling with extra patients and virus-hit staff.
NHS Trusts in North Wales revealed that nursing departments at Bangor University and Glyndwr University in Wrexham have been asked for contact details of students over the summer.
Letters have also been sent to recently retired doctors and nurses asking about their registration status.
They will be called in if health trusts are swamped with swine flu cases over the next few months and face mass staff absences as medical workers are also struck down by the virus.
The North West Wales NHS Trust currently has 10 staff off sick with suspected swine flu and the North Wales Trust said there were clusters of cases across the region.
The North Wales Trust, which covers Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Wrexham Maelor Hospital, said while services were currently not affected contingency plans were being swung into place.
A spokesman said: “Under the contingency plans student nurses from colleges in Bangor and Wrexham would be brought in to work as nursing assistants alongside the current nursing staff.
“We have started preparations by asking colleges to provide the Trust with contact details over the summer so they can be called in if required.
“Recently retired medical staff have also been contacted to see if they would be available to come back to assist in the event of a large number of staff absences and increased demand on services.”
He added that only after these options were exhausted would the planned workload be reduced with cancellations of pre-booked procedures.
The trust said the contingency measures were not currently required but preparations were being made.
They said the numbers now coming to the trust hospitals with suspected swine flu was falling as the public is heeding warnings to remain at home if they believe they have the virus.
The North West Wales Trust said calling up students nurses and retired medical staff was part of their contingency plans. There are no hospitalised patients with swine flu currently in either trust.
The most recent figures in Wales estimate there were 153.1 cases of a flu-like illness diagnosed by GPs out of every 100,000 – this is the equivalent of around 4,500 people contacting their GPs in the last seven days with flu like symptoms.
In North Wales there has been a sudden increase in cases in Gwynedd, with 212.1 cases per 100,000 on July 27, compared with 75 on July 21. Anglesey still has the lowest number of suspected cases with 119.8 per 100,000.
In the UK 30 people with swine flu have died – 26 in England and 4 in Scotland. The majority had underlying health conditions. There has been a total of 914 people hospitalised with swine flu – 840 in England, 51 in Scotland and 23 in Wales.
Wales’s chief medical officer Tony Jewell said people should check their symptoms on the NHS website or phone the swine flu information line.
He said: “People with flu-like symptoms should not go to their A&E, local GP or pharmacy in case they spread the virus to others.”
If people think they may have swine flu they should call the Swine Flu Information Line on 0800 1 513 513 or NHS Direct Wales on 0845 4647.