The health service in England should be ready for continued pressure as a result of the current cold snap, according to the latest update from the NHS national emergency pressures panel.
The panel was set up earlier this year as part of the national winter action plan to advise Pauline Philip, NHS national director for urgent and emergency care, on pressure and clinical risk.
“The panel wants to thank all NHS colleagues for their continued hard work and dedication”
Following its latest meeting today, the panel noted that last month the NHS had been confronted with persistently high flu hospitalisations, a renewed spike in norovirus and prolonged cold weather.
Given the “severity and duration” of the cold weather, which typically triggers a rise in hospital attendances and admissions, the panel warned the NHS to now be ready for continued pressure.
The renewed spike in norovirus meant that the number of beds closed by diarrhoea and vomiting have been up to 143% higher than the same time last winter, noted the panel. Last week, on average over 950 beds were closed, up from fewer than 500 for the same week last year.
In addition, the panel stated that the NHS was already contending with the “worst flu outbreak this decade”, which appeared to have peaked at the start of February.
It estimated this had meant up to 4,000 hospital beds a week were still being taken up by flu patients, which typically stay in hospital two and a half days longer than others.
- Deferment of non-urgent patients extended to end of January
- Trusts told to prepare for ‘expected surge’ over festive period
- Care home staff to be offered flu jab as part of winter action plan
Despite these challenges, the panel highlighted that the NHS saw and treated 92,000 more patients in four hours this January than the same month last year.
It also provided around 1.5 million more flu jabs this winter than last and latest data shows the number of bed days lost to delayed transfers of care has fallen to its lowest for approaching three years.
In addition to this, the NHS 111 service answered 1.33 million, an average of 42,900 per day, and an increase of 4.8% on January 2017.
The panel once again recorded its thanks for the “hard work of all colleagues” and noted the winter plans were having an impact in the face of the most challenging circumstances for several years.
Its chair Sir Bruce Keogh said: “The panel wants to thank all NHS colleagues for their continued hard work and dedication in the face of a ‘perfect storm’ of appalling weather, flu and norovirus.
“With the severe conditions expected to continue we ask patients, their families to bear with us as we seek to minimise any disruption,” he added.