Two thirds increase in hospital flu cases amid rising staff absences and pressure on NHS 111

The number of patients with flu in hospital has increased by two thirds in one week amid significant pressure on services, the NHS said today.

New published data shows the post-pandemic impact of viruses circulating again with an average of 1,939 flu cases in England’s hospitals every day last week (up from 1,162).

Weekly winter data shows the wide ranging set of pressures faced by the NHS ahead of Christmas, with another seven days of rising flu hospital cases, increased calls to 111 and more staff sickness.

The number of flu patients in intensive care has also skyrocketed, up more than 70% on the week before to 149 a day (from 87).

In mid-December last year, the NHS only had two flu patients a day in critical care and 32 in general and acute beds (week ending 19 Dec).

This comes on top of continued near-record demand for the 111 service, with 721,301 calls last week – up from 706,129 the week before. The volume of calls is significantly more than usual for this time of year, up almost 60% on the same week in 2021 when there were 452,644 calls (w/e 19 Dec 2021).

The rise in demand is understood to be partly driven by parents concerned about symptoms of Strep A.

The NHS has prepared extensively for winter and industrial action, with plans already in place to manage rising demand including around the clock system control centres, additional bed capacity, more mental health support for ambulance services and community falls services.

There was an average of 60,583 absences due to staff sickness every day last week, up almost a fifth on last month (51,342 w/e 20 Nov).  The number of staff off work because of Covid has risen by a third since mid-November, to 7,218 a day (5,454 w/e 20 Nov).

As well as the growing number of beds occupied by flu patients, high bed occupancy was affected by the 13,697 patients on average each day who were stuck in hospital despite being medically fit to leave.

An average of 19 in 20 general and acute beds have been occupied since the NHS started to publish its weekly winter data last month.

This is despite a huge effort by the NHS to boost bed capacity, with 100,101 general and acute beds open a day last week compared to 90,621 this time last year.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS National Medical Director, said: “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.”

The weekly winter situation report can be found on our statistics page: Urgent and emergency care daily situation reports 2022-23.