The UK is facing its worst flu season for a decade with A&E under pressure, causing hundreds of deaths, new figures have revealed.
According to the UK Health Protection Agency (UKHSA), flu admissions were 8.3 per 100,000 people in the week to January 1, down from 14.8 the previous week, the highest level in at least a decade.
Despite the decline, the rate is still running above any point in the last four winters, with hospitalizations 50 percent higher in the week before Christmas than in 2017-18.
Country braces for its deadliest flu season since at least 2010-11 many times,
Graph shows weekly hospital admissions per 100,000 people for Covid (red) and flu (blue). Monitoring figures from the UK’s Health Protection Agency show that Covid penetration is felt to be between 12 and 11 per 100,000 people, with penetration falling to 8 per 100,000 in the week to 1 January
NHS figures show an average of 995 people infected with Covid were admitted to hospitals across England on 2 January. Figures show the average number of people seeking NHS care due to the virus peaked on 23 December (1,154) and has been trending downwards since
Flu-infamy has swept the NHS in England, the latest round of health service data show, with more than 3,800 admissions for the virus on 23 December. The graph shows the number of wards taken up by people with flu (red) and the number of beds filled due to the virus in critical care (blue).
Figures from NHS England today showed an average of 63,000 staff were off work every day in the week leading up to Christmas (red line). About 8,000 absences were due to COVID (blue line)
Ambulance handover delays peaked on 19 December, with more than 3,000 patients forced to wait more than an hour in the back of an emergency vehicle, unable to be unloaded onto a hospital bed.
This comes as Covid hospital admissions have stabilized ahead of another expected wave fueled by the ‘Kraken’ variant, data show.
NHS statistics show virus pressure peaked in mid-December, when XBB-1.5 first began to be detected across the UK, and has been falling since. Flu admissions also fell during the final weeks of 2022.
Experts are hopeful that both drops are genuine, with sick hospitals currently being battered by a ‘twindemic’ that has called for a return to pandemic-era restrictions such as face masks and mass testing.
But officials admit the fall could be a blow given the delay in reporting over the Christmas period.
The overwhelming pressure on the NHS, staff shortages and record levels of bed-blockers, as well as Covid and flu, has led to an increase in excess deaths, analysts fear.
Nearly 15,000 people died in England and Wales in the week before Christmas when the pressure on the health service was described as the most intense. The death rate was about a fifth higher than what was typically seen at the time of year before the pandemic.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has warned that the spike in deaths is ‘undoubtedly’ linked to record delays to urgent care.
NHS figures show an average of 995 people infected with Covid were admitted to hospitals across England in the week ending 2 January.
Figures show the average number of people seeking NHS care due to the virus peaked on 23 December (1,154) and has been trending downwards since then.
The number includes patients who are not actually sick with the virus and tested positive by chance.
On top of this, weekly UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) surveillance figures showed between 12 and 11 felt Covid admissions per 100,000 people.
The Covid admission rate was highest among the elderly, at 131 per 100,000 for those over 85 and 52 per 100,000 for those aged 75 to 84.
Separate UKHSA data, also published today, suggests there has been a sharp drop in influenza admissions over the festive period.
Hospitalizations for influenza reached the highest level seen in a decade in the week before Christmas, with 15 admissions per 100,000 people.
But admissions nearly halved in the week to January 1, reaching 8 per 100,000.
Flu hospitalizations are still highest among the oldest age groups, at 62 per 100,000 for those older than 85 and 32 per 100,000 for those 75 to 84.
Despite the decline, health chiefs have warned that the rate is still running above any point in the past four winters.
And there could be a slight dip to recorded levels of hospital activity during the often festive period, which this winter includes the weekend of 24 and 25 December and the subsequent bank holidays of both December 26 and 27.
UKHSA said the latest data could therefore be affected by ‘reporting delays over Christmas and New Years and bank holidays’ by some hospitals not returning a full set of figures.
But there could also be a temporary decrease in virus transmission due to “reduced social contact rates during the holidays,” the agency said, as fewer people are traveling and many communal buildings are closed.
Figures from the Sanger Institute, one of the UK’s largest Covid surveillance centres, show that 4 per cent of cases in the week to 17 December were due to XBB.1.5 (shown in purple, lower right corner)
XBB.1.5 was first listed on the institute’s virus dashboard on 17 December, which is updated weekly
Steve Russell, the health service’s director of immunization and screening, said the NHS had delivered around 20 million flu jabs to around four in five people over 65.
Means 1.3 crore people have not come forward for the vaccine.
But flu admissions ‘continue to be very high’ so it ‘remains vital’ that anyone eligible – including pregnant women and children aged two and three – who hasn’t had their flu jab book as soon as possible.
UKHSA chief executive Dame Jenny Harris said there had been a ‘dramatic increase’ in the number of flu admissions before Christmas, but has started to decline in recent days.
She said: ‘I urge all those eligible to come forward for their free flu vaccination, which is the best way to protect themselves from serious illness.
‘Use of the flu vaccine is low, particularly in children aged two and three, so if your child is eligible, please take up the offer straight away.
‘Covid is also circulating at a high level and anyone eligible for a booster who hasn’t taken it yet should come forward.’
Dame Jenny said: ‘Try to stay at home when you’re unwell and if you must go out, wearing a face covering can help stop germs spreading to other people. If you are unwell, do not go to the weak.’
In response to a surge in seasonal viruses and a plea to ease pressure on the NHS, health chiefs have renewed calls for sick Britons to stay away from work when unwell and to wear masks when outside.
The UKHSA boss said that children who are sick and have a fever should stay home from school.
Other bleak experts have gone even further amid record pressure on the NHS following the emergence of the Omicron sub-variant XBB.1.5, which has been dubbed by World Health Organization officials the most infectious strain yet.
Some scientists urged people to work from home where possible, reduce their social contacts and wear masks in crowded places, even if they are not sick.
But Tory MPs and a group of scientists have however rejected these calls. He warned that the NHS’ annual winter crisis could not be used as ‘an excuse to re-impose Covid-era restrictions’.
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