NHS patients from around England have joined health chiefs in pleading with the public to get their flu vaccines after being hospitalised with the virus.
It comes as the latest data shows there were 5,500 patients in hospital with flu last week and more than 9,000 patients with COVID.
A woman from Buckinghamshire has said she “will be the first in the queue” for a flu jab next year after spending two weeks in hospital with flu and pneumonia after being taken to hospital on Boxing Day when she became severely ill.
Carole Hildreth, 64, was left needing oxygen and IV antibiotics in Stoke Mandeville Hospital’s respiratory ward in Aylesbury, after contracting the infections which left her feeling exhausted, unable to walk to the toilet, and regretting not getting the free, annual vaccination.
Retired palliative care unit manager Carole said: “Having flu like this came as a massive shock, totally out of the blue. Looking back, not having the vaccine was just stupid. I’m always healthy and I felt invincible I suppose – we have had a number of vaccines throughout the pandemic.
“I’ve been in hospital for nearly two weeks, first in the emergency department and then on a respiratory ward. I now struggle to get enough energy to walk to the toilet – never mind chasing after my grandchildren like I usually do, and I even have to plan if I have enough energy to brush my teeth.
“I haven’t been able to fault the care I’ve received. The NHS staff kept me alive and got me going again. It’s so busy when you get to the emergency department, but they immediately swung into action and helped me and did their very best.
“I’d say to others to please think carefully – this has been devastating and put me back on track of being up-to-date with my vaccinations. I’d urge everyone please, please, please, if you get the chance to have a vaccine, take it. I’ll be first in the queue next time”.
The resurgence of flu this winter has meant the NHS has seen a continued rise in flu inpatients, which have soared to their highest this winter with 5,500 people in hospital with the virus last week.
The number of patients with COVID-19 in hospital also rose to an average of 9,390 patients last week, up by almost 1,200 on the week before.
While almost 20 million people have had a flu jab, including four in five over 65s, and more than 17 million people have had a COVID booster, there are still a number of eligible people who are yet to take up their winter vaccinations and are therefore at increased risk of serious illness.
Meanwhile, 82-year-old great grandmother, Patricia Bull, was treated at Walsall Manor Hospital over the New Year for pneumonia and believes the jab may have saved her life.
Patricia said: “Flu has completely knocked me off my feet and I never dreamt it would put me in hospital. I just think how much worse it could have been if I hadn’t had my jab this year.
“I would tell everyone to protect themselves. I have never, ever felt like this.
“It’s frightening to think of how much worse this could have been as it has been bad enough for me. I am hoping to go home soon but my oxygen levels are low so we need to see how it goes. Everyone needs to take the flu seriously and look after themselves”.
Cannock grandmother Linda Matthews, 67, who also suffers from fibromyalgia, said: “it’s not worth thinking about how bad it could have been if I hadn’t had the vaccine” after spending five days over Christmas at Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust’s dedicated flu ward.
Linda said: “It’s been very hard without my loved ones around me – and I was supposed to be cooking the Christmas dinner so I’ve got my family to thank for sorting it all out whilst I’ve been away. I’m looking forward to seeing them all and giving my three-year-old granddaughter her presents!
“There’s no way I could say no to the flu vaccine, even after having flu itself, because it’s not worth thinking about how bad it could have been if I hadn’t had the vaccine. This has knocked me off my feet!
“I would recommend the flu jab to others”.
NHS Director of Vaccinations and Screening Steve Russell said: “It is both heart-breaking to hear the stories of those who have been hospitalised with flu and heart-warming that they received such brilliant care from NHS staff and quite possibly had their lives saved by the flu vaccine.
“With hospital cases for flu at their highest yet this winter with 5,500 beds occupied by patients with flu and more than 9,000 patients with COVID last week, the message is clear – anyone who has been invited for a flu vaccine but yet to take it up, should come forward now – it is not too late and I would urge you to book an appointment at your local pharmacy, GP or via the National Booking Service, as soon as possible”.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “There has been a dramatic increase in hospital admissions for flu and we are seeing the highest levels of hospital admissions we’ve seen in at least a decade. There are currently over 5,000 hospital beds a day taken up by flu patients, compared to just 50 this time last year.
“This week, I have visited hospitals and emergency departments to see first-hand the operational action taking place to ensure patients are receiving the right care and I continue to work closely with NHS England to prioritise this issue.
“We are already taking action with up to £14.1 billion additional funding in the autumn statement over the next two years to improve urgent and emergency care, with an extra £500 million to help get fit people out of hospital quicker, freeing up beds and getting ambulances back on the roads.
“If you are eligible, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and ease pressure on the NHS is to join the 19.9 million people that have had their vaccine”.
Those eligible for the flu jab include all people aged 50 and over, health and social care workers, people aged six months and over and considered “at risk” due to another medical condition, as well as pregnant women and children aged two and three.
Children are able to receive their vaccination via a nasal spray and are encouraged to get the vaccine to not only protect themselves but reduce transmissions to others at risk.
Flu cases in hospital jumped up by almost a half (47%) last week, as staff in NHS 111 answered a near record number of calls.
New figures for the week leading up to New Year’s Day, showed there were 5,105 patients with flu in general and acute hospital beds, up from 3,479 the previous week.
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.
The weekly winter situation report can be found on our statistics pages: Urgent and emergency care daily situation reports 2022-23.
Those eligible for the flu jab are:
- people aged 50 and over
- those aged between six months and 49 years with a specified health condition
- some secondary school-aged children
- two and three-year-olds
- pregnant women
- primary school-aged children
- those in care homes
- people who are carers, as set out in the Green Book
- frontline healthcare workers
- frontline social care staff who do not have access to occupational health schemes
- household contacts of people with weakened immune systems.