It’s flu season already! Hospital admissions double in a week as winter virus arrives early
- Eighty per cent of nursery and primary school pupils have not had their flu jabs
- Hospitalisation is now at ‘moderate intensity’ with 2.8 admissions per 100,000
- NHS is in ‘unusually bad shape’ says think tank while NHS Provider disagrees
- Norovirus cases are 35 per cent higher than the five-year average, reports say
Flu has arrived early this year with hospital admissions doubling in a week.
Health officials confirmed the virus was starting to circulate, with rates particularly high in the north of England.
Thousands of vulnerable patients have not yet been vaccinated including 80 per cent of nursery children and primary school pupils.
Many GP surgeries and pharmacies have only just received deliveries of the children’s nasal spray inoculations following a supply glitch with the manufacturers. Health experts are worried that the early arrival of the flu season is a sign that it will be severe and protracted, causing chaos for the NHS.
Eighty per cent of nursery children and primary school pupils have not received their vaccinations (file image)
Rates of the winter vomiting bug norovirus are also at their highest in five years and two schools in Leicester and Liverpool have been forced to close.
The NHS is already under severe pressure and the most recent figures on A&E waiting times and bed occupancy rates are the worst on record.
The latest weekly data from Public Health England show the hospitalisation rate from flu is already at ‘moderate intensity’ – 2.8 admissions per 100,000.
This is twice as high as the previous week and ten times higher than this time last year. Yet just 21.1 per cent of two-year-olds and 20.4 per cent of three-year-olds have so far received their nasal spray vaccine. The figures are even lower for primary school pupils and just 17.6 per cent in Year 1 have been immunised alongside 15.2 per cent of those in Year 6.
The low uptake is largely due to a temporary supply problem with AstraZeneca, the nasal spray’s manufacturer.
Although these issues have since been resolved and stocks are being delivered to GP surgeries and pharmacies, the huge numbers of unvaccinated youngsters is a cause for concern.
The latest weekly data from Public Health England show the hospitalisation rate from flu is already at ‘moderate intensity’ – 2.8 admissions per 100,000
Children are known as ‘super-spreaders’ because they tend to catch flu at school or nursery and pass it on to pregnant mothers or grandparents. A PHE spokesman stressed that the early arrival of the flu season would not necessarily have a bearing on its duration or intensity.
But one NHS source told the Mail the virus had arrived significantly earlier than last year and was apparently more severe.
The norovirus has arrived earlier than last year and is putting the health and care system under ‘severe demand pressure’, according to Miriam Deakin of NHS Providers. Ms Deakin says trusts have ‘prepared extensively’ for winter (file image)
One clinician told the Health Service Journal that flu had come earlier than in 2017/18, itself the worst outbreak in eight years.
Miriam Deakin of NHS Providers, which represents hospital, ambulance and community trusts, said: ‘If it is the case that we are already beginning to see high levels of flu in parts of the country, this is a worrying sign that the predictions of a difficult winter may already be a reality.
‘The health and care system is already under severe demand pressure for services, and patients coming into hospital are requiring more complex levels of care. Alongside high levels of staff vacancies, an outbreak of flu or norovirus could have a serious effect on the delivery of services.
‘Trusts have prepared extensively for winter and will continue to work together to encourage as many staff as possible to take up vaccinations.’
Children are ‘super-spreaders’ because they tend to catch flu at school or nursery and pass it on to pregnant mothers or grandparents (file image)
Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, head of flu at PHE, said: ‘Flu is now circulating and is starting to increase in the community, particularly in the north of England.
‘Current evidence suggests that the main circulating strain of flu is well matched to this year’s vaccine – if you are eligible, get your vaccine from GP or pharmacist to ensure you are protected.’
Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst in the policy team at the Kings Fund think-tank, pointed out that the NHS was heading toward winter ‘in unusually bad shape’.
A chief analyst at the Kings Fund think-tank said the NHS was ‘heading toward winter in unusually bad shape’ and the flu season (pictured, virus under the microscope) is mirroring the severe cases in Australia
He pointed out that NHS staff were concerned that the UK would follow Australia – often seen as a bellwether for the illness – which had a particularly severe flu season.
He added: ‘Flu outbreaks create pressure on all parts of the NHS during winter – creating greater demand for telephone advice, GP consultations and admissions to intensive care units in hospital.
‘Last year the United Kingdom was relatively lucky to see only low to moderate levels of flu, and flu activity has remained below baseline levels so far this winter.
‘Most clinicians I speak to are anxious about the prospects of the punishing early and severe flu season in Australia being mirrored in the United Kingdom and putting further strain on services that are already thinly stretched.’
Separate PHE figures show that norovirus activity in the community as confirmed by lab reports is 35 per cent higher than the five-year average. The next weekly flu and norovirus statistics are due out today and are expected to show a further rise in the number of cases.
While flu vaccination isn’t compulsory, this year’s numbers are significantly lower than in previous years.
By this time last winter more than a third of two and three-year-olds had received the nasal spray alongside a fifth of eligible primary pupils.
Vaccination rates normally go up as winter progresses and more families become worried about contracting flu.
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