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Danger warning for hospitals as flu cases soar by 50 per cent

NHS leaders have issued a warning over surging flu cases as the number of patients in hospital with the bug soared by more than 50 per cent in a week.

An average of 234 people were in hospital with flu each day last week – up 53 per cent on the previous seven days. Figures from NHS England also showed a rise in norovirus cases in hospitals last week with an average of 406 cases per day, up from 351 the previous week and a 28 per cent rise from last year.

The latest data comes after public health officials sent a warning over whooping cough levels, with 719 suspected cases reported between July and November, up from 217 last year.

This week several NHS hospitals have sent out alerts to the public warning of “extremely busy” A&Es.

Dr Tim Cooksley, former president of the Society for Acute Medicine, warned: “Pressures are being exacerbated by increasing rates of sickness among colleagues, as well as pressures on precious resources such as isolation areas and side rooms, adding to the strain on already overstretched services...

“Undoubtedly we will see more older patients enduring prolonged degrading periods of corridor care and many people experiencing difficult symptoms whilst they sit on elective waiting lists.

“Most hospitals are already experiencing chaotic and dangerous scenarios.”

He added that there was “a lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation” from new health secretary Victoria Atkins.

Professor Julian Redhead, national clinical director for urgent and emergency care for NHS England said: "Demand on hospitals and staff remains high, and as we experience more spells of cold weather and people gathering indoors for festive events and end of year celebrations, we expect to see a continued increase in winter viruses spreading in the community and in some cases, this will lead to hospital admissions.”

The weekly NHS winter data also shows there were 146 children in hospital each day with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), an increase compared to the week before when an average of 131 cases were reported each day. Numbers are also up 11 per cent on last year.

According to the figures, there was an average of 47,018 NHS England staff off sick last week – 800 more per day compared to the week before. The NHS employs 1.3 million people.

Rory Deighton, director of the Acute Network for NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said: “The rise in winter viruses and staff sickness suggests that the pressure on health services is only going to continue to mount as we get deeper into winter.

“While NHS leaders and their teams have put in a herculean effort to prepare for winter we know that viruses and staff absences will only continue to increase.”

He warned winter pressures would be exacerbated by the upcoming junior doctor strikes which are scheduled to occur from 20 to 23 December and 3 to 9 January.