The government has announced that the National Pandemic Swine Flu service is scheduled to launch later this week to enable the remote diagnosis of patients with the disease and thereby take some of the heat off of already stretched GP services.

The hotline had been expected to go live sometime in October, but the Department of Health has brought forward its introduction to help divert some of the pressure away from the NHS following a huge surge in GP appointments for patients seeking treatment for the virus.

According to the latest figures, there were 55,000 new cases of swine flu throughout the UK last week and GP consultations rocketed more than 50% to a level higher than that seen during last year’s traditional autumn flu season. In addition, some providers of out-of-ours care have reported a 130% jump in calls from patients worried they have contracted the illness, according to Pulse magazine.

With the launch of the National Pandemic Flu Service, patients will be able to get a diagnosis through a dedicated website or telephone line, and if positive will then be assigned with a unique code so that they, or a representative, can pick up a course of the anti-viral Tamiflu without ever having to see a GP in person.

Dr Laurance Buckman, head of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, has welcomed the move, claiming that the service should allow doctors to concentrate on the most serious cases of swine flu as well as patients with other illnesses, which are currently being sidelined while doctors cope with the swell of those worried they have picked up the bug.

Furthermore, Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said the time was right to introduce the new service as it will allow for teething problems to be addressed before demand is expected to surge further in the looming autumn/winter flu season, reports BBC News Online.