The interim National Pandemic Flu Service is to go live in England from the end of next week, the Department of Health has announced.
The service, renamed from the originally planned Flu Line, will consist of a dedicated website and call centres.
Patients will be able to contact the service if they suspect they have swine flu and those diagnosed with the illness will be given an authorisation number which a ‘flu friend’ can use to pick up antivirals from a local antiviral collection point.
The DH said it was particularly important for people with chronic lung, kidney or heart disease, under fives, over 65s and pregnant women to use the new service as soon as they have symptoms.
Sir Liam Donaldson, chief medical officer, told the BBC that the service would offer an alternative route of access to the health service through the internet and a telephone line.
He added: “That will relieve the pressure on GPs and hospitals to treat the most seriously ill patients.”
Sir Liam said swine flu was increasing particularly in West Midlands and London but that it was now spreading to other parts of the country and that in some of the “hotspots” were well over epidemic levels.
Sir Liam said the DH was placing a lot of trust in the public by enabling patients to self-diagnose and get drugs via the internet. He said a public information campaign would make it clear that patients should only take antivirals if necessary.
He said patients would also be given a unique identifier and would have one supply of drugs and it would be difficult for them to get additional antivirals after that.
The telephone service will be staffed by 2,000 people in call centres. The number for the service has yet to be released.
Latest swine flu figures show that there have been 29 deaths in the UK with more than 600 people in hospital and between 37,000 and 55,000 cases. The DH is predicting that eventual deaths from swine flu could range from anywhere between 3,000 and 65,000.
The DH said the flu service would only be switched on in England at the moment as it said the service was not yet needed in Scotland and Wales although the situation was being kept under constant review.
The full National Pandemic Flu Service will not be ready until October after delays in the plans for the original Flu Line.