Birmingham swine flu sufferer Erroll Roberts was caught up in the frenzy of the National Pandemic Flu Service’s first day when he tried to get a diagnosis in its first hours.
The 43-year-old advertising executive from Rednal was cut off three times but got through to a call centre worker on his fourth attempt shortly after the system went live at 3pm yesterday.
Mr Roberts described how callers are immediately given a caution that misusing the service to gain Tamiflu without having the illness or with the intention to sell on the drug would result in a prosecution.
“I suppose it was a bit haphazard because it had just been launched but it took four attempts to get through and then the man I spoke to seemed a bit disorganised,” said Mr Roberts.
“We got there in the end though and after giving all my details and answering a series of yes-no questions, he said the system showed I was at risk of having swine flu and gave me an authorisation code and location for my ‘flu buddy’ to go and pick up the antivirals for me.
“It is a lot easier than calling the doctor out to see you and hopefully it will become less bumbling as time goes on.”
Call centre staff were inundated with calls over the afternoon while the official website crashed within half an hour due to high numbers trying to be officially diagnosed with the H1N1 virus.
The Department of Health initially did not give a time for when the site would launch amid rumours of IT problems.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Initially millions of people were trying to get through to the call line and website, so it was working slowly but is now fine.
“People may have to wait longer in peak periods.
“We are taking misuse of the service very seriously and will prosecute anyone selling on prescription drugs as it is illegal.
“These antivirals only help someone if they have swine flu. If you don’t have swine flu, they can make you feel nauseous.”
The new Service is aimed at taking pressure away from GP surgeries.
Liberal Democrat shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb was concerned about the website crashing and said: “This is obviously very worrying and raises serious questions about the robustness of the pandemic flu system.
“The Government claims the reason for the delay in setting up this service was because they needed to thoroughly test it to ensure this wouldn’t happen.
“It is absolutely vital that the public has access to a reliable source of information on swine flu to provide reassurance and to take the pressure off GPs surgeries.”