Norovirus and flu cases in hospitals surge to a new high this winter

The NHS’s top emergency doctor has warned the health service is still in the thick of winter, with norovirus and flu cases at their highest levels this winter and up three-quarters on the same week last year.

The latest weekly winter data shows an average of 688 patients were in hospital each day last week with norovirus – up 80% on the same time last month (376), and 75% higher than the same time last year (393).

There was also an average of 2,226 patients with flu in hospital each day last week – up 70% in a month (1,312 the week ending Dec 31) and three-quarters higher than the same week last January (1,290).

Separate figures show Covid still remains a concern, with an average 3,982 patients in hospital with Covid each day last week – up from 3,895 each day the week before.

Staff continue to work with colleagues in social care to get as many patients as possible home when they are ready. Today’s data shows that there were an average 13,620 people in hospital each day last week who could not be discharged despite being medically ready – down by more than 800 on the week before.

Demand for NHS services remains high, with 96% of adult beds occupied last week, the highest so far this winter.

This comes after the NHS announced it had met its urgent and emergency care recovery plan ambition of an additional 5,000 ‘core’ beds to increase the level of permanent, staffed, and sustainable beds over winter.

The 5,000 extra beds ambition was against a baseline of 94,500, the original level of core beds planned by NHS trusts in 2022/23. Today’s figures show the NHS had a total of 103,688 general and acute beds open each day last week – over 2,300 more than the same week last year – with 99,864 of these core beds.

The increased number of beds came as part of a raft of measures as NHS planning for winter began earlier than ever before, including the nationwide rollout of care ‘traffic control’ centres, extra ambulances, more NHS call handlers, and the rapid expansion of the world-leading virtual wards programme, helping keep patients out of hospitals and treating more people at home and in the community.

NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Urgent and Emergency Care, Professor Julian Redhead said: “These figures show that the NHS is still in the thick of a challenging winter with intensifying seasonal virus pressures as hospitals dealt with the highest number of patients with norovirus or flu so far this winter.

“Last week was evidence of why the NHS needed to grow its core bed numbers – with occupancy at its highest level this winter, fuelled by rising numbers of flu and norovirus admissions, and more than 13,000 patients remaining in hospital each day who are fit to be discharged because of ongoing capacity issues in social and community care – and NHS staff have worked tirelessly to boost capacity and execute key steps of the urgent and emergency care recovery plan.

“As always, I would urge the public to get their flu and Covid vaccines if they are eligible, and continue to come forward for NHS services when you need them – 999 or A&E in an emergency, and 111 online for any other conditions.”

Today’s figures show ambulances are still experiencing high demand, with 90,079 patients taken to hospitals last week.

While NHS 111 staff answered 381,760 calls last week – 50,554 more than the same week last year (331,206).

Absences for staff are up 1,744 more each day than the week before, and 727 more each day than last year, with 49,212 absences reported each day last week.