FLU season is reaching its peak with hospitals working “flat out and full to the brim”, a health leader has warned.
Nearly 1,600 people were in NHS wards with the bug last week, a rise of 11 per cent in a week and two-thirds higher than in the Christmas holidays.
Saffron Cordery, of NHS Providers which represents hospital bosses, said: “Demand keeps growing as very cold weather and winter bugs like flu have affected lots of people.
“NHS trusts are working flat out with wards almost full to the brim.”
An average of 1,582 people were in hospital each day last week with flu, including 65 in critical care beds, according to NHS England.
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The total is up 12 per cent from 1,416 in the week to January 14 and is just above the previous peak of 1,548 a fortnight earlier.
This is still below the numbers for the equivalent week in 2022 when the UK experienced the worst flu season for a decade, because of low immunity after two winters of Covid measures.
The NHS is also dealing with hundreds of cases of norovirus, with an average of 438 adult hospital beds filled last week by those suffering from the dreaded bug.
This is down three per cent week-on-week from 452 beds but is higher than last year and in 2022.
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The number of patients testing positive for Covid-19 has also dropped slightly, with an average of 3,888 each day in the week to January 21.
The NHS said it has 5,000 more patient beds than last year, but it is still busy, with 96 per cent of the total 103,000 full.
There are also more bed-blockers waiting to go home than this time in 2023, with 14,436 people fit for discharge but still on wards.
This is the highest weekly average so far this winter and also the highest since records began in April 2021.
Amanda Pritchard, NHS CEO, said: “These additional beds are helping the NHS better manage increased winter pressure, significant demand, and rising numbers of patients with seasonal viruses.”
Ambulances are taking more patients to hospital than last year – 90,115 last week – but response times are faster.
Health leaders said the impact of junior doctor strikes in December and early January is “still being felt”.
Dr Mary Ramsay, UKHSA director of public health programmes, confirmed the latest data shows “flu is on the rise”, but added that free vaccines for flu are available up to the end of March for those who are eligible.
“Children aged two or three years can receive a quick and painless nasal spray flu vaccine from their GP,” she continued.
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“There is less than a week to go before the window to book your Covid-19 vaccine closes on January 31.
“We’re urging all eligible people who have not yet done so to come forward so that they do not miss out on being protected against serious illness.”
Who is eligble for a flu vaccine?
Those eligible for a flu vaccine this year include:
- Those aged 65 years and over
- Those aged 6 months to under 65 years in clinical risk groups (as defined by the Green Book, chapter 19 (Influenza))
- Pregnant women
- All children aged 2 or 3 years on 31 August 2023
- School-aged children (from Reception to Year 11)
- Those in long-stay residential care homes
- Carers in receipt of carer’s allowance, or those who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person
- Close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
- Frontline workers in a social care setting without an employer led occupational health scheme including those working for a registered residential care or nursing home, registered domiciliary care providers, voluntary managed hospice providers and those that are employed by those who receive direct payments (personal budgets) or Personal Health budgets, such as Personal Assistants
Where can I get it?
You can have the NHS flu vaccine at your local GP surgery, certain pharmacies (if you’re over 18), and some maternity services if you’re pregnant.
Children will be given the nasal spray vaccine at school, a GP surgery or a community clinic.
The following pharmacy chains offer free jab to eligible adults:
Head to the shop’s website to book your jab.
Thousands of other pharmacies will also be offering the lifesaving vaccine.