A&E performance 'continues to be pressurised' by flu and norovirus

Flu and norovirus cases are continuing to put pressure on accident and emergency departments, NHS figures show.

The number of bed closures due to norovirus or diarrhoea and vomiting rose to an average of 841 per day last week, up from 817 in the seven days before.

Weekly figures from NHS England also reveal 13,300 patients waited more than 30 minutes to be seen after arriving at A&E by ambulance, and of those 2,900 waited for longer than an hour.

This was an increase from the week ending February 11, when around 10,800 people waited more than half-an-hour and 2,200 more than an hour.

A spokesman for NHS England said: "While the number of new flu cases is now gradually declining, flu hospitalisations have continued to plateau at a high rate.

"2,500 beds are currently occupied by flu patients which is more than the peak levels of flu over the last six years.

"This is further compounded by a rise in beds lost to norovirus.

"The combined effect is that February A&E performance continues to be pressurised."

Bed occupancy rates remained at 95%, while the number of times ambulances had to divert to other A&E units was down from 30 to 23, according to data for the week ending February 18.

The figures come after NHS Improvement's quarterly report, released on Wednesday, revealed there were 100,000 vacancies across England's 234 acute, ambulance and mental health trusts.

A&E departments also dealt with record numbers of patients between October and December, with 5.6 million people visiting across the period - a quarter of a million more than the same time last year, according to the report.

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: "As we enter the eighth week of severe and unrelenting pressure, flu rates are still high and occupancy remains well over 90% in general, with thousands of extra beds required with the staff to care for them and major delays in ambulance handovers.

"Staff have worked harder than ever this year in providing the best, safe and compassionate care they can, but it is at a cost and a strain - there are more than 26,000 registered nurse vacancies in acute hospitals with some acute medical units reporting up to 25% vacancies.

"This is a marker of the sheer strain people are under and it is unsustainable."

The most recent Public Health England (PHE) figures show there were 19 flu-related deaths in the week ending February 11, bringing the total this winter to 241.

But there was 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.