Thursday 24 November 2022 11:02 AM NHS's 'toughest ever winter': Flu already piling 10 times more pressure than ... trends now

Thursday 24 November 2022 11:02 AM NHS's 'toughest ever winter': Flu already piling 10 times more pressure than ... trends now
Thursday 24 November 2022 11:02 AM NHS's 'toughest ever winter': Flu already piling 10 times more pressure than ... trends now

Thursday 24 November 2022 11:02 AM NHS's 'toughest ever winter': Flu already piling 10 times more pressure than ... trends now

A winter of reckoning has come for the NHS with flu admissions already 10 times higher than last year, with hospital beds and ambulance delays also sky high in officials are saying could be the health service's 'most challenging' season ever.

NHS England's first weekly winter situation report for 2022 shows an average of 344 flu patients needed hospital care each day from 14 to 20 November. 

This is more than 10 times the level seen at the start of December in 2021, when an average of 31 patients needed care for flu each day.

Last year's flu admissions, which were predicted to be high after the Covid lockdowns blunted Briton's immunity to the virus, only peaked at about 140 patients in hospital last winter.

The health service today released the first of seasonal situation reports for 2022, earlier than previous years, amid predictions this could be the toughest winter the NHS has ever faced.

Ambulance handovers also continue to suffer with one in 10 patients arriving at hospital stuck outside waiting to be handed over for over one hour as staff struggle to find room.    

Data in the NHS report shows that general and acute beds are already approaching 100 per cent occupancy, with 19 out of 20 filled by a patient.

This means there is little capacity in hospitals for a potential surge in admissions.

Bed-blocking continues to exacerbate the problem and at an even worse level than previous years.

Over 13,000 NHS beds last week were taken up by patients fit to leave hospital, up from 10,000 in the first week of December in 2021. 

The first NHS England winter situation report shows flu patients, bed occupancy levels and ambulance delays are already at worryingly high levels

The first NHS England winter situation report shows flu patients, bed occupancy levels and ambulance delays are already at worryingly high levels 

Ambulances couldn't respond to one in four 999 calls last month 

New ambulance data for October shows emergency services are collapsing even before the predicted busy winter period.

The data shows paramedics couldn't respond to a quarter of 999 calls last month, a record figure, because they were stuck outside hospitals unable to offload patients. 

This contributed to an estimated 5,000 patients in England potentially suffering 'severe harm' as a result of ambulance delays, another grim record. 

Senior ambulance officers said patients were dying every day due to delays, and the emergency could no longer perform its role as a 'safety net' for people needing urgent help. 

Martin Flaherty, managing director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), which represents the heads of England's 10 ambulance services told the Guardian: 'The life-saving safety net that NHS ambulance services provide is being severely compromised by these unnecessary delays and patients are dying and coming to harm as a result on a daily basis.'

Data collected by AACE shows 169,000 hours of ambulance crews time was lost in October due to delays handing over patients. 

The lost time meant paramedics could not answer 135,000 calls, which represented 23 per cent of the services' total capacity to respond to emergencies. 

Rachel Harrison, national secretary of the GMB union, which represents 15,000 staff in English ambulance services said the data showed a service in 'meltdown'.  

'These figures show that it is on its knees and close to collapse as a result of vacancies, underfunding, morale being at a very low ebb and demand for ambulance care having doubled to 14m calls a year since 2010,' she said.

The data also recorded the average handover time for ambulance crews to A&E in October was 42 minutes, up 12 minutes in October 2021's figure.

Additionally the total number of one, two, three and 10-hour handovers was the highest ever recorded.

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So-called delayed discharges are caused by lack of capacity in England's social care system, meaning patients who could be looked after at home with periodic visits from health teams are instead stuck in hospital, in some cases putting them at further risk of harm.

Seasonal bugs and workplace stress are also wreaking havoc on NHS staffing levels.

The health service lost 360,000 days of work due to staff absence last week.

NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said the data showed the pressure facing hospitals and staff from a tripledemic of flu, Covid and other winter bugs was already here. 

'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,' he said. 

'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.'

He called on the public to book jabs for flue and Covid if eligible to do so.

Professor Sir Stephen said the NHS already had plans in place to deal with winter pressures including recruiting more call handlers, introducing 24/7 control centres to track and manage demand. 

'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,' he said.

It comes as new ambulance data for October shows emergency services are collapsing even before the predicted busy winter period.

The data shows paramedics couldn't respond to a quarter of 999 calls last month, a record figure, because they were stuck outside hospitals unable to offload patients. 

This contributed to an estimated 5,000 patients in England potentially suffering 'severe harm' as a result of ambulance delays, another grim record. 

Senior ambulance officers said patients were dying every day due to delays, and the emergency could no longer perform its role as a 'safety net' for people needing urgent help. 

Martin Flaherty, managing director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), which represents the heads of England's 10 ambulance services told the Guardian: 'The life-saving safety net that NHS ambulance services provide is being severely compromised by these unnecessary delays and patients are dying and coming to harm as a result on a daily basis.'

Data collected by AACE shows 169,000 hours of ambulance crews time was lost in October due to delays handing over patients. 

Ambulance performance statistics for October show paramedics took longer to arrive to category one, two and three call outs since records began in 2017. Ambulances took an average of 1 hour, one minute and 19 seconds to respond to category two calls (red bars), such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is more than three times as long as the 18 minute target

Ambulance performance statistics for October show paramedics took longer to arrive to category one, two and three call outs since records began in 2017. Ambulances took an average of 1 hour, one minute and 19 seconds to respond to category two calls (red bars), such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is more than three times as long as the 18 minute target

Government could 'ditch' targets on cancer treatment, A&E waiting times and ambulance response

Targets on waiting times at accident and emergency (A&E) departments, cancer treatment and ambulance response times could be ditched as the Government

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