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GP consultation rate for flu increases by 42% in a week

The GP consultation rate for patients with flu-like symptoms has increased by 42% in a week, according to the latest statistics from Public Health England.

The weekly flu report for the week ending 14 January showed a consultation rate of 53.1 per 100,000 in England, which is more than 2.5 times higher than the consulation rate at the second week of January last year.

This comes after the flu report for the week ending 7 January showed a consultation rate of 37.3 per 100,000 in England, which at the time was almost three times the expected rate for the season of 13.1 per 100,000.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘General practice continues to face huge winter pressures with a significant increase in patients presenting with influenza, and high numbers of patients continuing to present with other common winter illnesses.’

She added: ‘Wintertime always brings challenges for the health service, and GP practices have prepared well in order to deliver the best possible care for patients. But patients can also help in keeping themselves safe and well during the cold weather.’

Professor Stokes-Lampard reiterated the RCGP’s ‘3 before GP’ advice, which asks patients to self-care before visiting a GP this winter.

Professor Simon de Lusignan, medical director for the RCGP’s research and surveillance centre, added: ‘We’re seeing numbers of presentations of respiratory conditions change little this week, but unsurprisingly given what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from GPs, rates of influenza-like illness have risen again. 

‘Whilst flu rates in primary care are still within what we term the ‘medium threshold’, the virus does seem to be affecting patients aged over 65 most, with rates moving into the “very high threshold”.’

As Pulse has reported, GPs are ‘horrendously pressured’ this winter, including cancelling leave and working overtime to care for winter illnesses.

For hospital trusts, the latest statistics show demand from the flu seems to have let up slightly, as data from 18 hospital trusts showed that there were 198 new admissions to ICU/HDU with confirmed influenza this week compared with 240 the week before, when 22 trusts reported to PHE.

There were also 598 hospitalised confirmed influenza cases, not requiring intensive care, compared with 758 the previous week.

However, the number of cases of the ‘Aussie flu’, H3N2, has increased, with 20 confirmed ICU cases (compared with 18 the week before).

But the number of non-intensive care hospitalisations has fallen, with only 48 cases last week, compared with 157 the week before.

The report also said the rate of hopsitalisations stood at 8.21 per 100,000 this week compared with 7.38 the previous week – well above the expected seasonal threshold of 0.56.

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director at Public Health England, said the latest data ‘continues to show that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospital with flu’.

He added: ‘In terms of hospital admission, this is the most significant flu season since the winter of 2010/11 and the preceding pandemic year of 2009, although it is not an epidemic.’

Professor Cosford said doctors are seeing ‘a mix of flu types including the A(H3N2) strain that circulated last winter in the UK and then in Australia’. 

Earlier data released by NHS England for the week ending 7 January showed flu hospitalisations running at 2.5 times higher than the same time last year, with 27 flu-related deaths reported that week and a total of 85 confirmed flu-related deaths this winter.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Raised levels of flu and norovirus continue to put pressure on busy A&Es and other frontline services but today’s figures show pressures abating somewhat compared to the prior week, and with hospitals generally continuing to cope.’