Doctors warn of 'Beast from the East' burden on hospital admissions
The "Beast from the East" may put additional strain on an already "grave" situation in the NHS, senior medics have warned.
The Society for Acute Medicine, which represents hospital specialists in acute medicine, said it had "great concern" for the NHS in the week ahead as snowy conditions grip the country.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society, said: "The onset of a spell of extremely cold weather is of great concern for acute medical units who are already struggling with the widely reported stresses of this winter.
"Daily temperatures below the normal ambient level increase illness and hospital admission rates for cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, particularly among those aged 65 and over.
"Last week's performance figures showed an 11% rise on the previous week in influenza admissions, along with sustained dangerously high bed occupancy rates, so the situation is grave."
Drawing on figures from NHS Improvement, which showed a large deficit and high job vacancy rates in the health service, he added: "There is little on the horizon in the way of optimism for the future state of the acute services given the massive staffing issues and strain on resources made evident this last week.
"So far this winter we have seen the NHS survive on the goodwill and effort of hard-pressed staff of all levels who have gone the extra mile to ensure safe and high-quality treatment in the most difficult of circumstances.
"However, the challenges keep increasing and this week is another example of how the authorities simply cannot gamble on hard-working staff saving the day - it is not sustainable or fair and will be the downfall of our health service."