Published by BBC NEWS - 1st February 2024
  • Published
Stock photo of flu patientImage source, Getty Images

The number of people in hospital with flu and norovirus has hit a new high for this winter in England.

Latest NHS figures show 2,226 beds were taken up by flu patients each day last week, up 70% in a month.

But the number in hospital with Covid dipped slightly, and surveillance from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) showed rates were “broadly stable”.

The NHS said the data showed it was still “in the thick of a challenging winter”.

“Last week was evidence of why the NHS needed to grow its core bed numbers,” said Prof Julian Redhead, NHS England’s clinical director for urgent and emergency care.

The NHS said this month that it had met its target to increase the number of core hospital beds in England by 5,000 to 99,864.

But the latest data shows 96% of adult beds were still full last week, above the 85% level seen as safe by the World Health Organization.

NHS performance figures also showed that 34% of hospital patients in England arriving by ambulance in the week to 18 January had to wait more than 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E doctors.

That was up from 32% in the previous week, and the joint highest rate so far this winter.

It comes as a number of hospitals, including Shrewsbury, Winchester and Stoke have declared critical incidents recently because of “sustained pressure” on services, allowing them to request assistance from neighbouring NHS trusts.

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Flu and norovirus surge

The latest figures show the winter flu season appears to have come later this year with the number needing hospital treatment continuing to rise.

Common symptoms in adults include a sudden high temperature, aches, a dry cough and a sore throat. Some people also feel sick and report diarrhoea or stomach pain.

The symptoms are similar in children, but they can also suffer from ear pain and appear less active.

An average of 2,226 patients were in hospital each day last week with flu, including 84 in critical care beds, according to NHS England.

The total is up 41% from 1,582 the previous week and up 70% from the start of the year.

The NHS is urging those eligible for a free flu jab this winter, including all those over 65 years old, to continue to come forward.

Another 688 hospital beds in England were filled last week by people with norovirus-like symptoms such as diarrhoea and sickness.

The virus – known as the winter vomiting bug – spreads easily through contaminated surfaces or contact with an infected person.

Covid hospitalisations dip slightly

The number of people in hospital with Covid in England declined slightly, with an average of 3,701 beds occupied over the past week in large NHS trusts.

Of that number, just over a quarter – or 1,013 – were being treated “primarily” for the virus, with the majority admitted to hospital for another health problem.

A separate study from researchers at UKSHA suggested that the number of people testing positive for Covid in the community as a whole remained steady in the two weeks to 24 January.

Analysis of lateral flow tests indicated that about 2% – or one in every 50 people – would have tested positive for the virus in England and Scotland, compared to 2.3% in its previous report.

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