Cold weather likely to put further strain on emergency services

The cold snap is likely to put a further strain on accident and emergency services already dealing with raised levels of flu and norovirus, NHS England has warned.

Its weekly figures on winter pressures show there were 12,600 ambulance delays of more than 30 minutes this week, down from 16,700 last week. Of these, 2,600 were delays of more than 60 minutes, down from 5,100.

NHS data also shows a fall in the number of bed closures due to norovirus or diarrhoea and vomiting from an average of 944 beds to 621 beds closed per day.

But NHS England added that there has been a "marked increase" of reports of norovirus and they are now above the five year average for this week.

An NHS England spokesman said: "Raised levels of flu and norovirus continue to put pressure on busy A&Es and other frontline services but today's figures show pressures abating somewhat compared to the prior week, and with hospitals generally continuing to cope."

"We are now entering the third week of this crisis which will not relent for weeks yet even if admission rates reduce."

Many parts of the UK, including the North East and North West of England, Yorkshire and Humberside are currently experiencing a cold spell.

"With a 90% probability of severe cold weather, icy conditions and heavy snow predicted up to Sunday January 21 in these parts of the country, the weather could increase the health risks in vulnerable patients," NHS England added.

The latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) show there were 27 flu-related deaths in the first week of the year, taking the total number of flu-related deaths this winter to 85.

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, warned the strain on already-stretched services could last for many more weeks, putting NHS staff at risk of getting ill themselves.

"We are seeing a sustained period of exceptionally high demand on a service that is only being kept safe by dedicated staff going beyond all normal limits," he said.

"This is sustainable only for a week or two and we are now entering the third week of this crisis which will not relent for weeks yet even if admission rates reduce such is the crowding in our hospitals.

"The NHS and individual trusts must now give thoughts on how they can help their staff cope and not succumb themselves to illness brought on by exhaustion, which is now a real danger."

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