Hospital flu cases up six-fold in a month as staff contend with impact of strikes

Thousands of people were in hospital with winter viruses last week, including over 940 patients with flu, as staff contended with significant winter pressure on top of the impact of industrial action.

The latest figures for the week to Christmas Eve show there were an average of 942 patients with flu in hospital each day last week – including 48 in critical care. That is almost 6 times higher than the 160 patients 4 weeks ago (w/e 26 Nov) and double the number a fortnight ago (402 w/e 10 Dec).

Norovirus is also continuing to have an impact with an average of 452 patients in hospital with diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms each day. That is 61% higher than the 281 patients the same week last year.

There were also 3,620 patients with Covid in hospital on 24 Dec, up 59% from 2,275 the month before (26 Nov).

As cases of Covid in the community remain high, there were an average of 2,597 members of staff off due to the virus every day last week, which is 51% more than the 1,715 people off at the end of November.

Last week hospitals contended with 3 days of industrial action by junior doctors with 86,329 appointments and operations having to be rescheduled. A further 6 days of strikes will take place between 3 January and 9 January 2024.

Despite the added disruption and the highest number of ambulances arriving at hospitals so far this winter (93,454), only 14,262 hours were lost to handover delays – half as many as the week before (28,966) and 61% lower than 36,292 the same week last year (w/e 25 Dec 2022).

As part of its early and robust winter planning, the NHS had 98,114 permanent ‘core’ beds and 2,626 ‘escalation’ beds – which are opened in times of high pressure – open last week.

In the run up to the holidays, staff did all they could to get as many patients as possible home for Christmas. There was an average of 11,439 people each day in hospital who could not be discharged despite being medically ready, however this was almost 1,300 fewer patients than the week before (12,728 for w/e 17 Dec).

Last week, despite answering more calls than any other week this winter (388,674) NHS 111 staff answered well over twice the proportion of calls within a minute compared to the same week last year (63.4% vs 24.9%).

NHS national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “It is great to see the hard work of NHS staff paying off with hundreds more beds in place than last winter, 111 call handlers answering twice as many calls within a minute as last year and despite the highest pressure from ambulance arrivals so far this winter, the shortest time lost to delays getting patients into hospitals – 61% lower than the same week last year.

“These figures demonstrate the storm of pressure the NHS is facing however, with huge rises in flu patients over the last few weeks and many more norovirus cases than we saw last winter, as well as the ongoing impact of Covid – all on top of the added pressure of industrial action.

“We know that last week more than 86,329 operations and appointments had to be rescheduled due to the 3 days of strikes, and unfortunately the impact is likely to be much more severe next week with 6 days of industrial action planned by junior doctors, the longest in NHS history, at a time when hospitals usually experience the most pressure with high demand and higher levels of virus admissions.

“So as always I would urge the public to get their Covid and flu vaccines if they are eligible, make sure you order repeat prescriptions in advance of the upcoming bank holiday weekend, and as ever only use 999 or A&E in an emergency, with 111 online the best place to go for any other conditions.” 


  • Latest weekly winter situation reports.
  • The Yorkshire contract area was unable to submit 111 data this week so direct comparisons of raw numbers should not be made with previous weeks or years.