NHS holding the line in the face of mounting winter pressures

Hospitals facing rising staff absences and winter virus levels.

21 December 2023

  • There was an average of 648 patients in hospital with flu each day last week, up 61% from 402 the previous week;
  • But this is much lower than the 2,088 during the same week last year.
  • Some 566 adults were in hospital with norovirus every day last week on average, up by 10% from 506 the previous week; 
  • Covid cases in hospital also rose 12% from 3,024 on December 10 to 3,390 on December 17.
  • Staff absences rose to an average of 49,776 on each day last week, up from 47, 020 the previous week;
  • The proportion of ambulance handover delays of more than 30 minutes was 33.1% last week, down from 33.8% the previous week and below the 40.5% reported the same week last year;
  • Some 14.2% of ambulance handover delays were longer than an hour, down from 15.2 last week;
  • Bed numbers were up by around 1,000 year-on-year, but bed occupancy was up slightly at 95.9%.

Responding to the latest winter sitrep data Rory Deighton, director of the NHS Confederation’s Acute Network, said:

“This data is further evidence of a health system and staff under immense pressure. The herculean efforts of staff means that the NHS is currently holding the line in the face of a cocktail of winter viruses, system pressures and industrial action but any additional pressure could tip it over the edge.

“The rise in viruses such as flu, norovirus and Covid as well as increased staff absences will concern health leaders, especially amid the ongoing industrial action by junior doctors. Thousands of hospital beds are taken up by patients with viruses, with bed occupancy levels worryingly high despite the successful efforts to boost capacity. Delayed discharges also remain a concern. 

“Our members have been empowered to do what they need to locally in the face of unbelievable pressure and are managing to hold back the tide. Some of the hard work to prepare for winter has paid off, with ambulance handover delays reducing slightly and more NHS 111 calls being answered quicker.

“While the data shows that the NHS is faring better than last year it is clear that the system is poised on a knife edge. Ambulance handover delays and delayed discharges are still too common and hospital bed capacity is running hot. This means that any additional pressure could see performance deteriorate and potentially put patients at risk.

“This is why we are urging the government and BMA to get back around the table and stop the strikes in January, during one of the most difficult weeks of the year for the NHS. If these go ahead our members are concerned about what the impact to patients and services could be.”