Flu and norovirus levels ‘creeping up’ as NHS braces for winter pressures

Flu levels in England are starting to rise but remain well below this point last year (PA)
Flu levels in England are starting to rise but remain well below this point last year (PA) Flu levels in England are starting to rise but remain well below this point last year (PA)

The number of people in hospital in England with winter viruses such as norovirus and flu is “creeping up”, figures show.

Health chiefs have said to expect further increases and growing pressure on emergency departments as the NHS faces the combined impact of cold weather, social mixing at Christmas parties and looming strike action by junior doctors.

An average of 406 adult hospital beds were filled last week by patients with diarrhoea and vomiting or norovirus-like symptoms, according to data from NHS England.

That was up 16% from 351 beds the previous week and more than quarter (28%) on this point last year, when the average stood at 318.

Norovirus is the most common infectious cause of diarrhoea and vomiting.

It spreads easily through contact with someone who has the virus or with contaminated surfaces.

While most people make a full recovery within two or three days, the virus can lead to dehydration, especially among the very young, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems.

The figures have been published as part of the weekly snapshot of how the NHS in England is performing this winter.

They show the number of people in hospital with flu has also risen week-on-week but remains well below levels seen at this stage in 2022.

An average of 243 flu patients were in hospital beds in England each day last week, including nine in critical care, up 52% from 160 the previous week.

The total stood at 772 at this point last year and would rise sharply throughout December as the UK experienced its worst flu season for a decade.

Professor Julian Redhead, NHS England’s national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said the new figures will come as “no surprise” to NHS staff, who are seeing the number of people coming to emergency departments with viruses “creeping up”.

He 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 measures we set out in our urgent and emergency care recovery plan and winter preparations earlier this year are having an impact, with more than twice the number of NHS 111 calls being answered within a minute and almost 1,400 more general and acute hospital beds open compared to the same time last year.”