Cold weather likely to put NHS under further strain

A leading doctor has said the NHS remains "under great stress" and recent cold weather is likely to see a "re-escalation in pressure".

The latest NHS figures show a spike in cases of norovirus led to more than 800 hospital beds being closed per day last week, while flu levels remain high.

Public Health England (PHE) said there were 19 confirmed flu-related deaths in the UK last week, taking the total so far this winter to 241.


Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: "As we enter the seventh week of sustained acute medical pressure, the system remains under great stress.

"The influenza surge may have peaked but is still a highly significant problem and, on top of that, the last seven days has seen the first real continuous period of cold weather since Christmas.

"This has caused a re-escalation in pressure which will not be seen in figures until this time next week."

Weekly figures released by NHS England show 10,800 patients had to wait more than 30 minutes to be seen after arriving at accident and emergency departments by ambulance, with more than 2,200 of these having to wait more than an hour.

There were 30 instances where ambulances had to divert to other A&E units, compared with 36 diverts in the previous week.

They also show a rise in the number of calls to NHS 111, with 335,900 calls in the week ending February 11 - 3.6% more than in the previous week and 18.3% up on the 284,000 calls in the equivalent week last year.

Bed occupancy levels were at 95%.

British Medical Association council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said bed occupancy levels above 85% are considered to be unsafe.

"While the pressure appears to be easing, the crisis is far from over as bed occupancy remains worrying high, particularly for long-stay patients," he added.

"This is concerning because it means the system is extremely congested, making it difficult for hospitals to find beds for those who need to be admitted.

Norovirus outbreaks can spread very quickly, as shown by a number of suspected infections at the #WinterOlympics. You're normally best off treating the symptoms at home:

-- NHS Choices (@NHSChoices) February 8, 2018

"The reality is that we now have a consistently overstretched health service, running without the capacity to meet demand all year round.

"Doctors have real concerns about the quality and timeliness of care the NHS can deliver when services are under such pressure."

PHE said seasonal flu continues to circulate across the UK, but there has been a 21% reduction in the GP consultation rate with flu-like illness, a 9% reduction in the flu hospitalisation rate and a 7% reduction in the flu intensive care admission rate.

An NHS England spokesman said: "Despite a spike in norovirus cases, latest monthly figures show that social care-related Delayed Transfers of Care (DTOCs) are at their lowest in two years, and NHS-related DTOCs are at their lowest in four years, thereby successfully freeing up 2,000 beds across the NHS for patients needing admission."

Figures released last week showed that just 85.3% of patients were seen at A&E departments within the waiting-time target of four hours in January - the second-worst month on record.

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