GPs throw toys out the pram in swine flu scare


By Michael MacLeod

TOYS have been banned from Scots doctors’ waiting rooms because of fears they could spread the deadly swine flu bug.

Crèches at private family clinics in South Queensferry and Dalkeith have been cleared after the drastic move.

Magazines have also been swiped from the waiting rooms, replaced by signs explaining that the virus, which has killed four people in Scotland, can live on hard surfaces for over an hour.

But the doctors are on a collision course with the NHS after sources revealed they are against the toy ban, saying it simply raises public fears over the H1N1 virus.

Banning toys “makes sense” according to Dr Dean Marshall, chair of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GP committee.
His surgery, Dalkeith Medical Practice, in Midlothian, has banned all toys in a bid to stop infection spreading.

He said: “Our job is not to provide entertainment for children.

“Whether or not that makes us killjoys, I don’t know.

“But the first thing a child does when they see a toy is handle it or put it in their mouth, which how disease can spread.

“To be honest though I’m not aware of any evidence of anyone getting swine flu off a soft toy but the risk is there and it’s basic hygiene.”

Extremely ill patients

Leaving toys out would leave ill patients “at even more risk” according to Christine Stebbings, practice manager of South Queensferry Medical Practice.

She said: “We have some extremely ill patients coming in daily who would suffer if they caught the virus, so the decision to remove toys has been taken with them in mind.

“I don’t see how it could be seen as controversial. In fact we have a swine flu committee which meets weekly and makes pro-active decisions such as this for the best interests of our patients.

“The feedback we have had from them has been that they appreciate the fact that we are trying to minimise the risk of infection.”

The NHS sat on the fence on the issue, insisting they have not issued any advice to GPs either way.

Their hands are tied as the vast majority of Scotland’s GPs are not directly employed by the NHS and do not have to take orders from them

But an insider said senior policy makers were “surprised” at the action being taken by doctors.

The source said: “Banning toys has raised eyebrows among the doctors I’ve spoken to, because it could come across as scaremongering.

“Quite frankly the NHS has no power to make GPs do anything we say, so it means some places will do it and others won’t.

“Mixed messages about anything to do with swine flu are the last thing the government wants.”

“Bureaucracy gone mad”

A private firm in England, TPCT, banned toys from waiting rooms last November – almost half a year before the swine flu pandemic broke out.

At the time, doctors slammed the move as “bureaucracy gone mad.”

Dr Kailas Chand said: “Waiting rooms without toys must be a nightmare It is bureaucracy gone mad.

“We have introduced more toys at my surgery. If having toys means children don’t mind coming to see the doctor, they are definitely a good thing.”

Banning toys has the support of the Royal College of General Practitioners in Scotland, Dr Ken Lawton.

His group meets weekly with the Scottish Government to discuss ways to tackle Influenza A H1N1.

He said: “I am not aware of other practices doing this, however, a practice may feel after risk assessment that this is a proportionate response.

“Good hygiene is of course, essential.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Individual GP surgeries are responsible for maintaining good hygiene standards in their waiting areas, including ensuring toys and magazines are kept clean, in accordance with guidance from the Scottish Government and professional organisations such as the RCGP.

“We have not issued any guidance instructing surgeries to remove such items and would consider any infection risk to be very low if cleanliness standards are maintained.”