Ten times more people are hospitalized with the flu than at the same time last year, according to the latest figures.
According to data published by NHS England.
It also comes amid pressure on staff, with new figures showing nearly 360,000 NHS staff were off work last week due to illness or self-isolation due to covid.
Around 19 out of 20 general and acute beds were occupied – 80% for adult intensive care, the first weekly winter update from NHS England also showed.
More than 13,000 (13,179) beds per day were occupied last week by patients who no longer needed them, an increase of a quarter compared to the first week of December last year (10 510).
It follows a warning from NHS leaders that it faces the threat of a “triple outbreak” of COVID, flu and record demand on emergency and emergency services.
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Flu season is here – and it’s hitting young and old the hardest
Flu season has arrived and the warning of crippling winter pressure on the NHS is starting to come true.
We are monitoring what is happening with the flu in the southern hemisphere to try to predict the impact the virus will have on us when winter arrives. It hit Australia hard and early and it could be repeated here in the coming months.
Already hundreds of NHS beds in England have been occupied by flu patients every day for the past week, according to the latest data. An average of 344 flu patients per day were hospitalized last week. This is more than ten times the number seen in early December last year.
The flu hits young and old the hardest. It is especially dangerous for children with underlying health conditions. Children’s doctors say the “pediatric winter” has begun.
November is when cases of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) increase. It’s a common winter virus, but social distancing during the pandemic means it hasn’t circulated widely in the past two years. It also means that young children have never been exposed to these winter respiratory viruses before.
As RSV cases begin to decline towards the end of November, influenza cases begin to increase.
Pediatricians are really concerned about the lack of intensive care beds for very sick children.
A senior consultant told me: “There have been virtually no PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) beds in the south of the UK for a few days and children sometimes wait more than 24 hours in the emergency room?
“The situation for children is awful but nobody seems to talk about it. Whereas for adults we always say how awful it is. It’s probably just as bad if not worse for children.”
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, National Medical Director of the NHS, said: “The first weekly data this year shows the considerable pressure staff are facing ahead of heading into what is likely to be the NHS’ toughest winter. .
“The figures also show that the flu is unfortunately already among us and that the concerns we had about the threat of a “triple epidemic” are therefore very real. It has never been more important to protect against viruses before winter so please book in for your jab if you are eligible if you haven’t already.
“The NHS has extensive plans in place to cope with increased bed capacity in winter – hiring more call managers, introducing 24/7 control centers to monitor and manage demand and new scrap services across the country.
“Hospitals continue to deal with more patients coming in than they are going out, with thousands of patients hospitalized every day who are medically fit to be discharged, and so we continue to work with colleagues in social services to make everything we can so that people can leave the hospital when they are ready.”