The number of norovirus, flu and RSV infections are likely to increase further this week due to cold weather, warns Professor Sir Stephen Powis
Winter pressures are already mounting on NHS staff ahead of December, with high levels of demand in hospitals due to a significant increase in cases of norovirus infection.
Norovirus is a highly contagious virus which spreads through contaminated food, water or surfaces and causes vomiting and diarrhea.
New NHS figures revealed that an average of 351 people were hospitalised with diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms every day last week in England, almost triple the number during the same period last winter, which was 126.
The number of children in hospital with the virus was also higher last week (13) compared the same week last year (an average of just three), according to the weekly winter update published by the health service on 30 November.
NHS teams expanded hospital capacity to 100,701 last week from 99,243 last year, an increase of almost 1,500 beds.
Hospitalisation rates remain high among adults, with adult bed occupancy reported at 95.3 per cent.
There were 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).
Furthermore, 153 flu patients were admitted in hospitals each day last week with seven critical cases on a daily basis, and an additional 131 children were in hospital each day with RSV.
Meanwhile, NHS national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, has warned that the impact of norovirus, flu and RSV infections on hospital capacity are “likely to be exacerbated by this week’s cold weather, and the demand on hospitals and staff is high is “likely to grow considerably before Christmas.”
Therefore, he has urged the public to 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.”
Innovative measures helping reduce care delays
The weekly winter update showed positive outcomes of innovative measures taken up reduce for winter pressures and the hard work of NHS staff.
Last week, the NHS staff managed to reduce time lost to ambulance handover delays by more than a fifth as compared to the same week last year (from 24,372 hours to 18,987), despite higher number of patients arriving via ambulance this time (89,506 vs 77,054).
The NHS 111 service received 419,676 calls last week compared to 423,969 the same week last year, but 67 per cent of calls were answered within a minute, almost double than last year, thanks to the increase in the number of call handlers.
However, challenges still remain in discharging patients who no longer need to be in hospital into settings such as social and community care.
As shown by the NHS data, an average of 12,654 beds each day last week were occupied by patients who were ready for discharge, taking up one in seven of all occupied adult general and acute beds (90,144).
More than 46,000 staff per day were off work sick last week, of which 1,715 absences were due to Covid-19, the new data revealed.
Robust NHS plans set out for this winter, include the nationwide rollout of care ‘traffic control’ centres, extra ambulances and beds, rapid expansion of virtual ward programme, and treating more people at home and in the community where appropriate.