GPs saw a 78% increase in consultations for flu-like illness last week, the latest Public Health England statistics show.
The weekly flu report for the week ending 7 January showed a consultatation rate of 37.3 per 100,000 in England, which is almost three times the expected rate for the season of 13.1 per 100,000.
The rate has risen from 21 per 100,000 – or 78% – from the week before, when practices were already struggling under increased levels of patient demand.
Meanwhile, data from 22 hospital trusts showed that in the first week of 2018, there were 240 new admissions to ICU/HDU with confirmed influenza. This was in comparison to 114 the week before, when 19 trusts reported to PHE.
The were also 758 hospitalised confirmed influenza cases, not requiring intensive care, compared with 421 the previous week.
As for the dreaded ‘Aussie flu’, H3N2, there were 18 confirmed ICU cases (compared with 17 the week before) and 157 non-intensive care hospitalisations (compared with 112 the week before).
The rate of hopsitalisations stood at 7.38 per 100,000 compared with 4.89 the previous week and a the expected seasonal threshold of 0.56, the PHE report said.
In the same week, PHE received 233 reports of new acute respiratory outbreaks, including 2019 from care homes, where 38 tested positive for influenza. This came as it had already received 141 reports in the previous week.
And as Pulse reported today, GPs in the south east of England are now being asked to prescribe antivirals to ‘well’ patients in nursing homes to prevent new cases.
PHE medical director Professor Paul Cosford said: ‘Our data shows that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospital with flu.
‘We are currently seeing a mix of flu types, including the A(H3N2) strain that circulated last winter in the UK and then in Australia. The A(H3N2) strain particularly affects older, more vulnerable age groups.’
He added that anyone eligible should take up their offer to be vaccinated.
Meanwhile, PHE and the Department for Health this morning launched the ‘Catch It, Bin It, Kill It’ campaign across press, TV and radio.
It comes as the CQC yesterday recognised the pressure on GP practices by deciding to halt re-inspections of practices with good and outstanding ratings to free up practices’ time until the end of January.
Meanwhile, MPs voted through a motion calling on the Government to increase funding to the NHS to restore services to normal levels, and reschedule tens of thousands of cancelled non-urgent operations.
NHS England statistics for A&E waiting times, also published today, revealed that the month of December was the worst on record, with major departments meeting the four-hour target in just 77.3% of cases.
Responding to the A&E figures, BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Despite the current pressures, I believe our health service is one of the best in the world, but with funding lagging behind that of other comparable European countries we urgently need politicians of all parties to come together and agree a long-term funding plan for the NHS.
‘Failing to do so will leave the NHS lurching from one crisis to the next and will undermine the delivery of safe, high quality and timely patient care.’
The Government has repeatedly argued that the NHS was better prepared for this winter than ever before, however Royal College of Emergency Medicine chair Dr Taj Hassan said today that the plan had ‘not worked’.
He said: ‘Things have deteriorated further from last year and the plan has not worked. Urgent action is now required from NHS England and the National Emergency Pressures Panel – a panel the College is not part of – and we have made recommendations to them that should provide stability and safety in the short term.
‘However, in the medium term, we are going to need investment in staffing, beds and social care to rescue a system that’s on its knees.’
As Pulse has reported, GPs are ‘horrendously pressured’ this winter, including cancelling leave and working overtime to care for winter illnesses.