Flu patients took up nearly 350 NHS beds in England a day last week, new data has indicated.
According to the first weekly winter update, there were an average of 344 patients a day with flu in hospital last week: more than 10 times higher than the 31 a day seen at the beginning of December last year.
The data also shows that occupancy levels for general and acute beds over that same week stood at 95%, and at 80% for adult critical care.
And more than 13,000 beds a day were taken up by patients who no longer needed one: up from 10,510 at the start of December 2021.
NHS England said this demand on hospitals comes on top of pressure caused by staff sickness, with 359,394 days lost to staff absences last week.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: ‘The first weekly data this year shows the considerable pressure faced by staff before we enter what is likely to be the NHS’ most challenging winter ever.
‘The figures also show that flu is unfortunately already with us and so the concerns that we had about the threat of a ‘tripledemic’ are very real. It has never been more important to get protected against the viruses ahead of winter so please book in for your jab if you are eligible if not already done so.’
He added: ‘Hospitals continue to contend with more patients coming in than going out with thousands of patients everyday in hospital that are medically fit for discharge and so we continue to work with colleagues in social care to do everything possible to ensure people can leave hospital when they are ready.’
Recently published quarterly data showed hospitals were more full this summer than during any other on record. This is despite the NHS creating more than 4,000 extra beds in the year to August.
NHS England has also warned that systems must prepare for ‘any potential industrial action’ to minimise disruption to emergency services and patient care.
And in its winter preparedness plans, NHS England asked ICBs to identify where to allocate potential winter support funding to GP practices and PCNs in their area, if such funding were to materialise.
Responding to the data Matthew Taylor, NHS Confederation chief executive, said: ‘These figures really hammer home just how stretched services already are as we head into a perfect winter storm. Significantly higher numbers of people are in hospital because of flu compared to this time last year coupled with the fact that Covid-19 has not gone away.
‘What these statistics don’t show us, is the story behind the scenes in primary and community care with many thousands more people seeking help and with demand for general practice appointments also at record levels.’