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GP consultation rates for flu-like symptoms rise further as 'Aussie flu' hits

Rates of GP consultations for flu continued to rise last week with the entire UK now affected by several influenza strains.

Public Health England's weekly flu update, for the period up to 31 December, also revealed a sharp rise in hospitalisations for the dreaded 'Aussie flu' H3N2 strain.

GP consultations for flu-like illness rose from 18 per 100,000 in England to 21, with levels now above seasonally expected levels in all nations of the UK (against an expected baseline for this season of 13.1 per 100,000).

The notice further reported an increase in NHS 111 calls relating to cold/flu during the period.

It said: 'GP in-hours consultations for influenza like illness (ILI) increased and are above seasonally expected levels and the highest rates were in the 15+ years age groups in week 52.

'There were also further increases in influenza-like illness indicators in emergency department attendances and NHS 111 cold/flu calls.'

PHE said the data should be treated with caution because GP practices were only open three days during the week, but hospital statistics further revealed that:

  • There were 114 new admissions to ICU/HDU with confirmed influenza at 19 trusts in week 52, compared with 61 across 12 trusts the previous week. Of these, 17 were confirmed as the 'Aussie' H3N2 strain, compared with nine the previous week.
  • There were 421 hospitalised confirmed influenza cases in week 52, compared with 66 in week 51. Of these, 112 were confirmed as the H3N2 strain, compared with five in the week before.
  • Flu hospitalisations were at a rate of 6.82 per 100,000 compared to 2.33 per 100,000 in the previous week, and above the baseline threshold of 0.56 per 100,000 for the 2017/18 season.
  • PHE said both influenza A and B are circulating.

As Pulse reported yesterday, the high demand on GP and urgent care has seen GPs cancel leave, work longer hours and being discouraged from transferring patients to emergency services.

PHE medical director Professor Paul Cosford said: 'As we would expect at this time of year, flu levels have increased this week. Our data shows that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospitals with the flu.

'The vaccine is the best defence we have against the spread of flu and it isn’t too late to get vaccinated.'

Rob Lambkin-Williams, executive scientific advisor at the hVIVO Group, said: 'It is a big rise in cases. In Australia it is the worst flu season they have had since 2009 and that may be what we are going to get now. We are already well above what is expected. I think it is likely to get worse.

'A lot of people have mixed just after Christmas and it is a classic time of year to get a spike. Kids go home and spend time with grandparents - that is one of the reasons we are vaccinating children now, to try and break that chain of infection.'

Statistics from Health Protection Scotland showed around 46 per 100,000 people were suffering from influenza this week, compared to 22 per 100,000 in the same week in 2016. It added that early testing showed 'just over half' of the circulating strains of flu match those in the 2017/18 vaccine.

Around half of Scottish health boards are reporting 'significant' ward pressure as a result of flu, the Scottish Government added.

It comes as NHS England's latest report on emergency services, also published today, showed that between 25 and 31 December:

  • 16,893 patients were left waiting longer than 30 minutes in ambulances outside A&E departments
  • Hospital trusts reported bed occupancy levels of 91.7% - up from 90.9% the previous week
  • Last week, ambulances were diverted on 39 separate occasions.
  • So far this winter, there have been over 75,000 ambulance handover delays over 30 minutes in England, according to a data analysis carried out by the Labour Party.

Labour's shadow health minister Jonathan Ashworth said the Government 'should be deeply ashamed of' the data, adding: 'These figures reveal the shocking scale of the crisis in our NHS this winter.'

'Labour and clinicians have warned ministers for months to prepare for this winter, but concerns were casually dismissed out of hand. Theresa May’s boast that the NHS is the best prepared it’s ever been has now been entirely discredited,' he added.

Also commenting on today's new winter statistics, which come after NHS England extended delays on non-urgent operations and appointments until the end of the month, BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said they were 'further evidence' that pressure on the already 'overstretched' NHS 'continues to intensify'.

He said: 'We urgently need more long-term planning to ensure the NHS can meet rising demand on services and has the capacity to deal with the inevitable spike in demand each winter.

Funding is a critical part of this, given that the NHS receives about £10bn less annually compared to other leading EU countries.

'This is why we are calling on the Government to plug this funding deficit, with investment that would deliver the extra beds, staff and services which are badly needed.'

Readers' comments (2)

  • Vinci Ho

    This first week of 2018 has already been proven to be eventful for us and NHS. More interestingly , the political demeanour of Agent Hunt and Auntie May was leaving ‘clues’ of what might happen this year:
    (1) Four days ago (3/1/2018) , the health secretary came out of the blue to apologise to the public as tens of thousands of non-urgent appointments e.g. hip replacement,had to be postponed due to extreme pressure in many acute trust hospitals. This threat of a potential Aussie flu(H3N2)epidemic played a part. Given the track record of Agent Hunt, one could be a bit surprised that he ditched the usual pre-written DoH script ,as this kind of incident did happen before. But that ‘script’ was not entirely thrown away into the bin. In fact , it was used almost immediately by the PM and she responded to the public with the usual , politically correct statement of how much more the government had already invested in NHS and NHS being well prepared for this potential crisis. Of course , we all reacted and labelled her as ‘out of touch’.
    Two days later , Auntie May changed her mind . The headline in The Guardian was ‘Theresa May changes tack to apologise for postponed operations’. Both non-urgent operations and outpatient clinics should be postponed until end of January to help acute trusts to cope. The apology was a reflection of what she said in a carnival funhouse mirror.
    (2) But here is the catch : How often do we see politicians openly apologising to people? If so , would you expect these ‘leaders’ of the state to deliver the same message at the same time? Agent Hunt is the SOS and Auntie May is the PM. The SOS actually overtook the PM to apologise first while the latter stood firm implying that the government did not do wrong. Fascinating.
    My conspiracy theory (I know some of you don’t like it) is this was an agent’s banana skin for Auntie May and indeed she had to switch to apology immediately two days later.
    (3) Perhaps , there is a wider implication here and it simply translates into the game called ‘Who is the next prime minister?’
    The political tectonic plates are moving towards each other and ready for an earthquake. Auntie May is standing right on top of them with no ‘wise men’ on her side . Thanks to the general election she personally called followed by resignations of her close aides and the thunderstorms of sexual harassment allegations in Westminster blowing away her First Secretary of State. The calamity of an everlasting cough with falling letters on the set behind her in last party conference was more than an omen from the divine power. Many said her days were numbered but yet she is still the PM today.
    The fact that you are still standing , though , does not mean the earthquake is not coming with numerous hyenas plotting and waiting behind you.
    (4)The far right camp within the Tory party is certainly trying to reposition itself in this new year. The evidence is emerging. Mojo Bojo’s brother appointed a new non-executive director on the board of the board of the Office for Students for universities. Guess what ? This was the headline on Mirror a few hours ago, ‘’Theresa May slams 'disasteful' tweets by Tory students tsar Toby Young after he 'posted sick sexual joke about starving children' ‘’. (You can Wikipedia who TY is if you are interested).
    And let’s call this new camp HYDRA (especially if you are fans of Captain America and Agent of S.H.E.L.D ). While Mojo Bojo is losing credibility due to the calamity associated with the imprisonment of the Iranian UK lady citizen in Iran, HYDRA has a potential , new leader for the whole party , Red Skull. Red Skull is anti-abortion , anti-(same sex marriage) and thought food-banks were ‘uplifting’.
    Being ‘betrayed’ by Donald Trump(recommend to read Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain and of course, the ‘fictional’ Fire and Fury from Michael Wolff) , Steve Bannon had to find a new patronage . He came to visit Red Skull in December last year(2017) to discuss ‘UK strategy’. Interesting, isn’t it.
    (5) What about our good Agent Hunt then? He was a ‘Remain’ in the EU referendum but he had stated recently that he was wrong to worry about the British economy after Brexit.
    He also said that the EU’s “disappointing” and “arrogant” behaviour since the referendum had turned him against the bloc. To those Brexiteers , he ticked at least one box and was certainly not one of those 15 ‘Brexit Mutineers’ (labelled by The Telegraph) which included Sarah Wollaston (she defected from Leave to Remain in 2016).
    And if your memory was good , our good Agent did briefly run for the leadership of his party , hence premiership, when his mate Lord Vader resigned as the PM.
    And if the free trade deal with EU did not materialise after the ongoing negotiations, UK would have to revert to WTO default arrangements. Any ‘good connection’ with all these big non-EU countries like US and China will be additional ‘merit’ for a PM. Well, Agent Hunt’s wife comes from China.
    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    As I have been reading a bit more on the world history in 20th century , there is a temptation to equate these political circumstances with the Weimar Republic between 1919-1933. I know this is only a temptation and clearly there are at least , several variables ,including financial situations , to prove me ‘wrong’ . The worrying aspect , however , is ever-changing nature of these variables.
    Furthermore , the far left ideology and demeanour(with its network organisation )from opposition also recalls the memory of the Third International(1919-1943). The opposition Chancellor admitted to be a fan of Marx-Leninism and Trotskyism.
    George Orwell was telling and descriptive when he wrote in 1941 ,’’The choice before human beings, is not, as a rule, between good and evil but between two evils.’’
    He probably never knew he could become a ‘prophet’ seventy odd years later as the prophecy could just repeat itself.
    For the sake of some optimism, I would quote Yuval Noah Harare in Homo Deus (instead of Charles Dickens’ opening in Tale of Two Cities):
    ‘’This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies. Of course this is not total freedom – we cannot avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is better than none.’’

    May the force with us in the new year.......

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  • Vinci Ho

    PS watch the cabinet re-shuffling tomorrow and UN-happy fox hunting .

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