The UK has launched a new self-care service that aims to give people with symptoms of the H1N1 influenza virus faster access to antivirals, reducing pressure on the National Health Service and general practioners.

The National Pandemic Flu Service includes a new website and a phoneline where people can verify their symptoms and access antivirals through a unique number provided to be used at their nearest antiviral collection point.

UK Health Secretary Andy Burnham said that the service would free up GPs to focus efforts on helping those in at-risk groups and patients with other illnesses.

The call centres will address patient queries with doctors from the Royal College of General Practitioners in a liasion role.

Up to 2,000 call operators will be trained to handle calls from suspected flu patients, the government said.