NHS responds to winter and strike pressures in December but fears remain high for January

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation responds to the latest NHS winter sitrep

29 December 2023

  • Hospital flu cases have continued to rise rapidly and were six times higher than a month ago with 940 in hospital last week.
  • Norovirus is also continuing to have an impact with an average of 452 patients in hospital with diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms each day. That is 61% higher than the 281 patients the same week last year.
  • There were also 3,620 patients with Covid in hospital on December 24, up 59% from 2,275 the previous month.
  • Staff absences due to Covid have risen by 51% since the end of November with an average of 2,597 members of staff off due to the virus every day last week, compared to 1,715 people at the end of November.
  • During the three days of industrial action by junior doctors last week 86,329 appointments and operations had to be rescheduled. A further six days of strikes will take place between 3 January and 9 January 2024.
  • Despite the added disruption and the highest number of ambulances arriving at hospitals so far this winter (93,454), only 14,262 hours were lost to handover delays - half as many as the week before (28,966) and 61% lower than 36,292 the same week last year.
  • Last week there was an average of 11,439 people each day in hospital who were medically ready but could not be discharged, however this was over 2,700 fewer patients than the week before.
  • Total general and adult bed occupancy was 91.4%.

Responding to the latest NHS winter sitrep Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:

“These numbers show the NHS was running hot but still delivering for its patients in the week leading into Christmas when there were three days of junior doctors’ strikes.

“Despite these walkouts, along with reported cases of coronavirus, flu and norovirus in hospital all being higher than before, it is positive to see the NHS’s extensive preparations being put to good use with some improvement in hospital discharge rates, ambulance handover delays and bed occupancy levels.

“However, these still remain higher than any health leader would want and with rates of illness high in the community, there are fears over the additional pressure this will create across frontline services at a time when the junior doctors plan to stage their largest series of strikes to date.

“While the NHS will continue to do everything it can, including prioritising those patients with the greatest clinical need, health leaders are approaching the new year with a sense of foreboding and trepidation.

“There are five days until the next strikes are due to begin and so, it is not too late for the BMA and government to have one final attempt to find some common ground so that they can be called off.”