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The National Emergency Pressures Panel (NEPP) met today chaired by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh.
The panel noted after stabilising A&E performance in January the NHS has been confronted with persistently high flu hospitalisations, a renewed spike in norovirus and prolonged cold weather which drives up hospital admissions.
The panel once again formally recorded their thanks for the hard work of all colleagues and noted the winter plans were having an impact in the face of the most challenging circumstances for several years.
Despite these challenges the NHS saw and treated 92,000 more patients in four hours this January than the same month last year, provided around 1.5 million more flu jabs this winter than last and latest data shows the number of bed days lost to delayed transfers of care has fallen to its lowest for approaching three years. In addition to this, 111 answered 1.33 million, an average of 42,900 per day, and an increase of 4.8% on January 2017.
However, given the severity and duration of the cold weather the panel warned that the NHS should be ready for continued pressure as a result of this cold snap, which typically triggers a rise in hospital attendances and admissions.
The renewed spike in norovirus means that the number of beds closed by diarrhoea and vomiting have been up to 143% higher than the same time last winter. Last week, on average over 950 beds were closed, up from fewer than 500 for the same week last year.
This pressure comes as the NHS is already contending with the worst flu outbreak this decade, which peaked at the start of February. We estimate this has meant up to 4,000 hospital beds a week are still being taken up by sufferers. Patients who contract the virus typically stay in hospital two and a half days longer than others.
Latest figures show that flu vaccinations rates are up across almost every target group, with uptake rate among healthcare workers with direct patient contact at record 67.6% this winter, up from 63% the previous year. Planning for next winter has already begun and this will include seek to build on this flu vaccination progress.
In the meantime, the panel would urge the public to use the NHS responsibly and, unless it is a real emergency, consider calling 111 or visiting a pharmacy before dialling 999 freeing up the NHS to focus on those most in need.
Sir Bruce said: “The panel wants to thank all NHS colleagues for their continued hard work and dedication in the face of a ‘perfect storm’ of appalling weather, flu and norovirus.
“With the severe conditions expected to continue we ask patients, their families to bear with us as we seek to minimise any disruption.”