Heard it through the Swine Line

The Telegraph is given to hyperbole, and never more so than when knocking the present government (not necessarily something I usually mind). This morning’s lead story about swine flu is another good example.

What caught me eye, though, was this

The hold-up [by the Treasury taking seven months to sign off the deal to set up a flu telephone helpline] meant that the Government had to introduce a stopgap flu phoneline, introduced last week, manned by staff given just one day of training.

In the meantime, NHS Direct, which should have been running the service, has made hundreds of its highly trained staff redundant.

The conclusion the Telegraph invites you to draw is that the Swine Line is somehow sub-standard, operated by barely literate staff and likely to make the situation (sorry, in Telegraph-speak “chaos” or “crisis”: take your pick) much worse.

Well, I have news for you. Expert systems work and this is just flu.  The NHS National Pandemic Flu Service is not offering the expert health information and advice that NHS Direct does; instead it is something very different: a screen based expert system that allows people to check their symptoms. It doesn’t need highly trained staff; it simply needs people who can operate the system. Two days in and it is working.