By Martin Wallace in Calais
A crisis-hit NHS (England) hospital has begged French
doctors to treat British flu victims on the other side of the
The desperate SOS was sent to a Calais hospital as
London ran out of intensive care beds - and only a handful
remained across the rest of Britain.
Last night the French consultant who revealed the plea, Dr
Herve Peneau, said: "We have never been asked to help in
this way before so the problem in the UK must be very
Dr Peneau, who runs the intensive care unit at Saint Pierre
hospital in Calais, had to turn down the request because all
his beds were occupied. But he promised to help if any
The 52-year-old consultant said: "I was phoned by a
London physician on Wednesday asking me to take some
of his patients as he had no beds left and was struggling to
find one anywhere. He told me the nearest empty bed to
him was way up in Edinburgh, and we are much closer.
"I wasn't surprised to get the call because I'd heard about
Britain's flu epidemic. But sadly I couldn't help."
Dr Peneau also revealed that a Health Department official
contacted him yesterday to ask if he had admitted any
Brits after the Government learned of the unnamed
London hospital's plea. Ailing flu victims could be whisked
by train from London to Calais through the Channel
Tunnel in under two hours.
The 125-mile journey would take a fraction of the time
needed to transfer a patient to Edinburgh, 420 miles away.
The French connection emerged 24 hours after The Sun
told how packed NHS hospitals were buckling under the
strain of the nationwide flu epidemic.
Many victims have developed more serious chest
conditions like pneumonia. Experts have warned the crisis
could last another three weeks - and the number flattened
by the bug continued to rise yesterday.
Dr Peneau supervises ten intensive care beds, six casualty
beds and six paediatric beds in the eight-storey Saint
He said: "Thankfully we don't have an epidemic here but
the beds are full because we are always busy this time of
the year. "I'm not surprised there are no beds in Britain
because the problem is so bad."
He added: "As we are in the north of France and our
communications are good, it makes sense to send patients
here from England if we have the space. We often get
similar requests for help from Belgium."
The 1,000-bed hospital was opened in 1975. But French
health chiefs say it is too old and overcrowded. And it is
due to be closed and replaced by a modern infirmary
Last night the Health Department said doctors were free to
"make phone calls and ask for help whenever they like."
But a spokesman added: "We are not in the business of
trying to make transfers overseas and would rather make
provision for treating patients in this country."
For the second day running, there were only 11 intensive
care beds available across the whole of Britain yesterday.
At some hospitals, doctors had to use theatre recovery
rooms to treat seriously ill patients.
The Health Department insisted the NHS is coping better
than it did during last winter's fiasco even though it is
under more pressure.
And the new 24-hour help-line NHS Direct, staffed by
nurses, is helping to ease the burden on doctors.
It has taken 160,000 calls since Christmas. And in more
than 50,000 cases, nurses were able to tell patients how to
help themselves. The number is 0845 4647.
FLU victims went vinda-loony yesterday after The Sun
told how eating spicy curries can beat the bug.
Readers rushed to follow the hot tip given by Professor
Ron Eccles of the Common Cold Centre, Cardiff.
All major supermarket chains reported ready-made Indian
meals being snatched off shelves.
A Somerfield spokeswoman said: "Like people's
temperatures, sales of our takeaway curries have been
And Sainsbury's sold more than 50,000 curries yesterday,
up 15 per cent.
Darren Smith the firm's curry buyer, said: "There has
been an incredible response to the Prof Eccles' advice. In
some stores customers have been clearing our shelves."
Prof Eccles said: "There has been a scientific study into
the effects of curries " and they really do work.
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