Severe cold weather to renew pressure on NHS

The prolonged cold snap could place the NHS under renewed pressure, with a rise in hospital attendance and admissions expected.

A spike in norovirus cases and high rates of flu have left the health service facing the "most challenging circumstances for several years", NHS England said.

The National Emergency Pressures Panel (NEPP), which met on Wednesday, warned the NHS should prepare for continued pressure as severe weather grips the country.

Chairman Sir Bruce Keogh said: "The panel wants to thank all NHS colleagues for their continued hard work and dedication in the face of a 'perfect storm' of appalling weather, flu and norovirus.

"With the severe conditions expected to continue we ask patients and their families to bear with us as we seek to minimise any disruption."

The panel said that after a more stable A&E performance in January, the NHS had faced "persistently high flu hospitalisations, a renewed spike in norovirus and prolonged cold weather", which had increased hospital admissions.

More than 950 beds were closed on average last week (Peter Byrne/PA)
More than 950 beds were closed on average last week (Peter Byrne/PA)

It is estimated around 4,000 hospital beds a week are being taken up by flu sufferers as the NHS deals with "the worst flu outbreak this decade", NHS England said.

Patients with the virus usually stay in hospital two and a half days longer than others.

The number of beds closed by diarrhoea and vomiting is also high due to a rise in norovirus cases.

Over 950 beds were closed on average last week compared with less than 500 at the same time last year - up 143%.