Junior doctors set to walk out this week while flu season 'officially under way' with 402 people in hospital every day last week with flu

Monday 18 December 2023

Health chiefs warned this year’s flu season is "officially under way" and urged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible, while juniors are set to walk out at the end of the week.

The rise in infections has prompted Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty to allow antiviral medicines to be prescribed to some patients who present themselves at GP surgeries or A&E departments with flu-like illnesses.

This comes as junior doctors are set to walk out for three days this week, at 7am on 20 December to 7am on 23 December, and for six days from 3 January, making it the longest strike in NHS history.

The Health Secretary expressed her "extreme disappointment" junior doctors walked away from talks and said a final offer had not been put before the British Medical Association (BMA) before more strikes were announced.

Victoria Atkins warned that the forthcoming strike by junior doctors in England comes at a "most challenging time" for the health service as she called on NHS staff to "explain the consequences" of the strikes to junior doctors.

An average of 402 people were in hospital each day last week with flu, up by nearly two-thirds (65%) from 243 in the previous week, including 18 people in critical care beds, NHS data shows.

It is the highest number so far this winter, but remains below the equivalent figure for this point last year when the UK was in the middle of its worst flu season for a decade.

The hospital admission rate for flu stood at 2.1 per 100,000 people in the week ending December 10, up from 0.9 the previous week.

Norovirus levels are also continuing to rise, with an average of 506 adult hospital beds filled last week by patients with diarrhoea and vomiting or norovirus-like symptoms.

Exposing the pressure on the health service further, figures show around one in three patients arriving by ambulance at hospitals in England last week waited more than 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E.

28,498 delays of half an hour or longer were recorded in NHS England's data across all hospital trusts in the week to 10 December, which was 34% of the 84,268 arrivals by ambulance.

The figure is up from 25% for the week ending 26 November.

Some 15% of ambulance handovers in England last week, or 12,797 patients, were delayed by more than an hour, up from 9%, or 8,239 patients, a fortnight earlier.

Talks between the government and junior doctors from the BMA had been ongoing for five weeks before the union announced further strikes dates.

The BMA said earlier this month that a credible offer had not been put before junior doctors before a pre-arranged deadline.

Health commentators expressed dismay at the news, highlighting that the strikes will take place during one of the busiest periods for the NHS.