Hundreds of beds taken up by flu patients every day ahead of winter

Hundreds of NHS beds in England were taken up by patients with flu every day over the last week, according to new weekly figures.

The first weekly winter update shows there were an average of 344 patients a day with flu in hospital last week, more than 10 times the number seen at the beginning of December last year (31).

Published earlier than in recent years, the weekly data shows that more than 19 in 20 adult general and acute beds were occupied in NHS hospitals over the last week, with occupancy levels at 95% for adult general and acute beds and 80% for adult critical care.

It follows a warning from clinical leaders that the NHS is facing the threat of a ‘tripledemic’ of covid, flu and record demand on urgent and emergency services.

More than 13,000 (13,179) beds a day were taken up last week by patients who no longer needed one – this is up a quarter compared with the first week of December last year (10,510).

The pressure from covid and flu comes on top of pressure caused by staff sickness, with nearly 360,000 (359,394) days lost to staff absences last week.

Recent monthly data has shown significant pressure on urgent and emergency care services, with this year seeing the busiest October ever for A&E attendances and the most serious ambulance callouts. This was on the back of the busiest summer ever for ambulance staff dealing with the most serious callouts.

Separate quarterly data shows hospitals were more full this summer than any on record, despite the NHS creating more than 4,000 extra beds in the year to August.

Bed occupancy data for July to September showed general and acute beds were running at 90.1% occupancy, higher than any previous second quarter.

NHS staff are working incredibly hard to prepare for what will be a challenging winter with extensive planning already underway to manage demand, including:

  • new 24/7 system control centres to track activity and performance
  • falls response services
  • respiratory hubs
  • boosting the number of beds and call handlers.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS National Medical Director, said: “The first weekly data this year shows the considerable pressure faced by staff before we enter what is likely to be the NHS’s most challenging winter ever.

“The figures also show that flu is unfortunately already with us and so the concerns that we had about the threat of a ‘tripledemic’ are very real. It has never been more important to get protected against the viruses ahead of winter so please book in for your jab if you are eligible if not already done so.

“The NHS has extensive plans in place to deal with winter boosting bed capacity – recruiting more call handlers, introducing 24/7 control centres to track and manage demand and new falls services across the country.

“Hospitals continue to contend with more patients coming in than going out, with thousands of patients everyday in hospital who are medically fit for discharge, and so we continue to work with colleagues in social care to do everything possible to ensure people can leave hospital when they are ready.

“As ever, the public should continue to use services in the usual way by calling 999 in an emergency and using NHS 111 online for other health conditions.”

The NHS has today launched its annual 111 online campaign, encouraging people to get the help they need from the convenience of their own homes.

People should still call 999 and go to A&E in an emergency – when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.