Number of flu deaths rises to 50

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Eleven more people have died from flu across the UK, taking the total to 50, figures show

Eleven more people have died from flu across the UK, taking the total to 50, the Health Protection Agency has said.

Of these, 45 died with swine flu and five with another strain, flu type B.

Five cases have been in children aged under five and eight cases among those aged five to 14. Another 33 cases are in people aged 15 to 64.

The figures come as some hospitals have been told to cancel operations to make way for the most seriously ill flu patients.

The NHS is preparing to expand the number of beds available for a highly specialised treatment, which is often seen as a last resort. Extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) helps patients whose lungs or heart are not working normally and uses an artificial lung to oxygenate blood outside the body.

The main ECMO centre is based at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester but seven UK hospitals in total are currently running ECMO beds – as of Christmas Eve, 22 ECMO beds were in use across UK, up from five in early December. Four more beds are now being arranged and steps are also being taken to expand this number by cancelling planned operations at some hospitals that provide ECMO.

Other hospitals which have specialist respiratory centres and provide intensive care have also been asked to cancel planned operations. This will ensure that those patients who are stable enough to leave ECMO can move into intensive care beds.

The Government has admitted that some parts of the country are suffering shortages of flu vaccines. Suppliers have been asked to contact their factories in Europe for a count of UK-licensed vaccines after the Government admitted it was considering bringing in supplies.

There is no central stockpile of seasonal flu vaccines, which are ordered every year by GPs and delivered to surgeries. The Department of Health has insisted there is “no national shortage” but admitted some areas were experiencing “local supply issues”.

According to the UK Vaccine Industry Group, 14.7 million doses of flu vaccine have been delivered across the UK, with 4% of those stocks going to private companies.

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