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GP consultation rates fall as flu activity decreases

GP consultation rates have fallen as flu activity has decreased despite fresh outbreaks of influenza, Public Health England revealed today.

The weekly report from PHE and RCGP showed that that the GP consultation rate had dropped from 52.1 per 100,000 in the week previous, to 43 per 100,000,

The report also established 95 new acute respiratory outbreaks compared to 174 in the previous week, 71 of which were in care homes. Eight outbreaks were reported in hospitals and 15 were seen in schools.

Decreases were observed across all age groups, with similar patterns in NHS 111 calls and GP out-of-hours consultations related to flu-like illnesses. Those aged 5-64 years saw the largest decline in numbers.

Professor Simon de Lusignan, who is medical director for the RCGP’s Research and Surveillance Centre said: ‘Even though rates are decreasing, there is still a huge amount of patients presenting with influenza-like-illness. Flu is unpredictable, so we can’t comment on whether rates will continue to decrease, stay stable or increase.’

Last week, vice chair of the RCGP, Professor Kamila Hawthorne, said: ‘General practice is still under considerable pressure as we deal with these flu presentations in our surgeries and this latest data shows we’re still not out of winter pressures yet as the influenza virus can be very unpredictable’.

Today’s report followed NHS England data which revealed only 77.1% of A&E patients were seen under the four-hour mark last month, well below the 95% target which hasn’t been reached since July 2013. This is the lowest percentage recorded in the period from August 2010 to the present.

The additional strain on services has corresponded to intense winter pressure, as cases of influenza have rocketed, with GP consultation rates increasing by 42% and 198 people hospitalised for flu, in just one week in January.

In December, chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies, issued an alert calling for immediate action with antiviral treatment to quell the surge.

She said: ‘With surveillance data indicating an increase in influenza cases in the community, GPs and other prescribers working in primary care may now prescribe antiviral medicines for the prophylaxis and treatment of influenza at NHS expense.’

Last month Pulse published results of a survey which uncovered that one third of GP practices have either run out of or are running low on flu vaccines.

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