Number of flu patients in English hospitals ‘skyrockets’
The number of patients in hospital with flu in England has “skyrocketed” while Strep A is driving “near record” demand for NHS 111 services, new data suggests.
An average of 1,939 people with flu were in hospital each day last week, up 67% on 1,162 the previous week, according to NHS England.
This is also a sharp increase on the daily average of 482 at the end of November.
There has also been a surge in the number of flu patients in critical care beds in England, with the daily average standing at 149 last week, up 72% from 87 the previous week.
At the equivalent point last year the NHS had only two flu patients a day in critical care and 32 in general beds.
It is clear that the NHS is facing enormous pressure ahead of Christmas with the number of flu cases in hospital and in intensive care rising week-on-week
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive at NHS Providers, said: “Trust leaders are expecting this Christmas to be one of their darkest to date. As they work hard to mitigate the impact of ongoing strike action, they are also having to contend with an incredibly long list of other serious challenges.
“The number of flu patients in hospital has jumped up by two-thirds in the last week.
“After very few flu cases in the last two years, in part due to social distancing during the pandemic, this flu season is looking far more severe compared to recent years before the pandemic.
“The surge in flu has impacted bed occupancy, which continues to be above levels considered safe.
“More patients are also staying longer in hospital due to greater severity of illness and delayed discharges, which remain a real concern and puts a massive strain on the entire health and care system, including community care and social services.”
Separate data shows there were 721,301 calls to NHS 111 services last week, up from 706,129 the week before.
Trust leaders are expecting this Christmas to be one of their darkest to date
NHS England said this was “near-record” level demand and “significantly” more than usual for this time of year, up almost 60% from the 452,644 calls in the equivalent week in 2021.
This rise in demand is understood to be partly driven by parents concerned about symptoms of Strep A.
NHS England national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis urged those eligible to get their flu and Covid jabs.
He added: “As well as the impact of industrial action last week, it is clear that the NHS is facing enormous pressure ahead of Christmas with the number of flu cases in hospital and in intensive care rising week-on-week, on top of significant increases in staff sickness rates and near-record demand for services like 111.
“Despite this, NHS staff continue to deliver a significant amount for patients – dealing with near record 111 calls as well as continuing to make progress on Covid-19 backlogs.
“With more industrial action scheduled for next week, there will be disruption but we urge the public to continue to use services wisely by continuing to call 999 for life-threatening emergencies, use 111 online for other health conditions, and take sensible steps to keep yourself and others safe.
“The NHS has prepared for winter extensively with more beds, extra call handlers as well as the expansion of falls response services, control centres and respiratory hubs, but with flu hospitalisations and Covid cases on the rise, the best things you can do to protect yourself is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible.”
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