Hundreds of patients in hospital with norovirus ahead of winter

The number of patients in hospital with norovirus last week was almost triple the number during the same period last winter, new NHS figures show today.

An average of 351 people were in hospital with diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms every day last week compared to 126 in the same week last year. There were also 13 children with the virus in hospital each day, compared to an average of just three for the same period in 2022.

New weekly figures published today and for the first time this winter, show the NHS is seeing high levels of demand in hospitals with evidence that winter pressures are already mounting on staff ahead of December.

NHS teams have worked hard to expand hospital capacity with almost 1,500 more beds open now (100,701) compared to the same week last year (99,243), but adult bed occupancy remains high at 95.3% with over 1,200 more patients in adult general and acute beds last week compared to the end of November 2022 (90,144 vs 88,902).

There was an average of 153 flu patients in general and acute hospital beds each day last week with seven a day in critical care, and an additional 131 children in hospital each day with RSV.

The weekly winter update also shows the hard work of staff and innovative measures to prepare for winter are paying off, with the time lost to ambulance handover delays reduced by more than a fifth on the same week last year (from 24,372 hours to 18,987), despite thousands more patients arriving via ambulance (up from 77,054 to 89,506).

There were 419,676 calls to the NHS 111 service last week, similar to 423,969 the same week last year. Yet thanks to measures to boost resilience and grow the number of call handlers, almost twice the proportion of calls answered were answered within a minute (from 36% to 67%).

However, challenges discharging patients who no longer need to be in hospital into settings such as social and community care are still having a considerable impact, with an average of 12,654 beds each day last week occupied by patients who were ready for discharge, taking up one in seven of all occupied adult general and acute beds (90,144).

The new data also shows that an average of 46,201 staff per day were off work sick last week, of which 1,715 absences were due to Covid-19.

Robust NHS plans for winter, set out earlier than ever before, have seen the nationwide rollout of care ‘traffic control’ centres, extra ambulances and beds and the rapid expansion use of the world-leading and innovative virtual ward programme, keeping patients out of hospitals and treating more people at home and in the community where appropriate.

NHS national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “We all know somebody who has had some kind of nasty winter virus in the last few weeks and today’s data shows this is starting to trickle through to hospital admissions, with a much higher volume of norovirus cases compared to last year, and the continued impact of infections like flu and RSV in children on hospital capacity – all likely to be exacerbated by this week’s cold weather.

“The measures we set out in our urgent and emergency care recovery plan and winter preparations earlier this year are clearly having an impact, and thanks to the incredibly hard work of staff there has been a significant reduction in ambulance handover delays despite higher demand, almost twice the number of 111 calls being answered in a minute, and almost 1,500 more general and acute hospital beds open compared to the same time last year.

“However, it is clear that even before we enter December the demand on hospitals and staff is high, with more than 1,200 extra patients in hospital compared to last year,  and we know that is likely to grow considerably before Christmas. So as ever, the public can also play their part by using services in the usual way – by calling 999 in an emergency and using NHS 111 for other health conditions – and by getting their Covid and flu jabs if eligible.”

The weekly situation report publications can be found here: Statistics » Urgent and Emergency Care Daily Situation Reports 2023-24