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GPs starting to see increase in flu consultations, show latest PHE winter data

GPs are beginning to see an increase in consultations for flu-like illness, according to the latest report from Public Health England.

The newly published document reported 40 new acute respiratory outbreaks last week, as well as an increase in flu hospitalisations and intensive care admission rates.

The report - released today - said that:

  • The weekly influenza-like illness GP consultation rate was 8.4 per 100,000 registered population last week, similar to 9.4 per 100,000 in the previous week - taking into account the Christmas holidays. This is compared to 6.2 per 100,000 at the end of November;
  • The flu hospitalisation rate increased from 1.06 per 100,000 in the week ending 23 December to 1.96 per 100,000 last week;
  • The intensive care admission rate increased from 0.19 per 100,000 to 0.29 per 100,000 over the same period.

Meanwhile, flu vaccine uptake among at-risk adults remained below last year’s result, with 44.7% in at-risk under 65s, 43.6% in pregnant women and 69.7% in over 65s, compared to 45.6%, 44.6% and 70.6% respectively.

This follows successive issues with flu stock orders and deliveries, which saw NHS England’s December vaccination target missed.

However, uptake among two and three year olds has succeeded last year, with 41.5% coverage in two year olds and 43.0% in three year olds, compared to 39.4% and 40.3% respectively last year.

PHE head of flu Richard Pebody said: ‘We have seen a rise in several of the flu indicators we track in the last week which suggests flu is now circulating in the community in England.

‘This year, we’ve offered a more effective adjuvanted vaccine to those aged 65 years and over; a quadrivalent vaccine, which helps protect against four strains of flu, to those aged 18 to 64 with underlying health conditions, and further roll-out of the nasal spray vaccine to an extra school year, as part of the children’s flu vaccine programme.

‘Uptake of the flu vaccine in pre-school age children is at its highest ever level, and rates of vaccination among eligible adults are similar to recent seasons. We are currently seeing mainly A(H1N1)pdm09 circulating which is well matched to the strains in this year’s flu vaccines.’

NHS England also released the latest winter pressures figures today, which show that bed occupancy rate has declined compared to a fortnight ago and ambulance delays of over 30 minutes have decreased compared to this point last year.

However, this comes after previous figures found the NHS had the worst November on record last year, with the lowest proportion of A&E patients seen within the four-hour waiting target and substantial increases in patients on treatment waiting lists.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Thanks to the hard work and preparation of NHS staff, the health service is performing better this winter than last, with people being seen more quickly in emergency departments, fewer ambulance delays, evening and weekend GP appointments across the country and more people able to leave hospital and get home sooner, all of which is good for patients and makes best use of NHS resources.’

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