Hospitals under pressure with three times more flu patients than last year

England’s top doctor has warned pressure on NHS hospitals this winter is “not letting up”, with thousands more patients in hospital compared to the same time last year.

New weekly figures show there were 3,372 more patients in hospital each day last week (97,934) than the same period in 2023 (94,562).

Despite the NHS having over 2,700 more beds compared to same week last year (103,557 versus 100,855) – including 99,887 core beds – bed occupancy is higher, with 94.6% of general and acute beds occupied in the week ending 11 February, up from 93.8% last year.

The weekly data, published today, shows that there were three times as many flu patients in hospital every day last week (2,390) than in the same week last year (737). While there was an average of 565 patients with norovirus and 3,232 patients with Covid-19 in hospital each day.

An average of 48,482 staff were off work each day last week, including 1,513 absences each day related to Covid-19.

Hospital capacity was exacerbated by 13,776 beds being taken up each day by patients who were medically fit for discharge because of delays sending people home or to other settings like social and community care, up from 13,498 last year.

The NHS started planning for this winter earlier than ever before with robust measures in place to manage demand – including more beds, new ambulances, and expanding measures such as care traffic control centres, virtual wards, urgent community response teams and same day emergency care.

There were 91,225 ambulance handovers to hospital last week, up 17% from 78,241 last year. NHS call handlers also answered 376,597 calls to 111, up 11% from 338,564 on the same week last year.

NHS National Medical Director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “It is clear that the significant pressure the NHS has been experiencing this winter is not letting up, with thousands more beds occupied and three times as many flu patients as last year, on top of continued high demand for ambulance services and NHS 111.

“The robust measures in our urgent and emergency care recovery plan and early winter planning have ensured we have more beds in place this year compared to last, and innovations like our Virtual Ward Programme and same day emergency care units are helping. But there is no doubt staff are continuing to face one of their busiest winters ever.

“The public can play their part by continuing to only use 999 and A&E in an emergency and using 111 online or local pharmacies and GP services for other conditions”.

The weekly winter sit rep data up to the week ending 11 February 2024 is available on our website.