NHS struggling to cope amid rising winter viruses and junior doctor strikes

Rory Deighton, director of the NHS Confederation’s Acute Network responds to the latest NHS sitrep

5 January 2024

  • There was an average of 1,312 patients in hospital with flu each day last week, up 39% from 942 the previous week;
  • But this is much lower than the 5,441 during the same week last year.
  • Some 377 adults were in hospital with norovirus every day last week on average, down by 16% from 451 the previous week;
  • Staff absences stood at an average of 47,779 on each day last week, down 4% from the previous week;
  • The proportion of ambulance handover delays of more than 30 minutes was 29 per cent last week, up from 23 per cent the previous week, but well below the 44 per cent reported during the same week last year;
  • Some 11,478 beds each day were filled with patients no longer meeting the criteria to reside in hospital on average last week, up slightly from 11,439 the previous week.

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

“The NHS is clearly struggling to cope in the midst of winter pressures and ongoing walkouts by junior doctors and these figures show just how much strain services are under.

“Health leaders and staff have pulled out all the stops to prepare knowing that strikes could exacerbate what is already one of the busiest weeks of the year. The fact that things are not as bad as last year is testament to all the earlier planning and hard work that has been put in, but the data clearly shows this is one of the worst winters the NHS has ever faced.

“Flu and other winter virus levels continue to climb, while high numbers of staff are off sick. Multiple trusts have declared critical incidents this week and our members are worried about how much capacity they have to deal with rising demand. Ambulances are still being delayed outside of hospitals and too many patients who are fit enough to go home are stuck in hospital beds.

“On top of this the recent severe weather and storm Henk is impacting on local resilience teams, and on NHS staff as they deal with impact of flooding.

“With a cold snap on the horizon this could pile yet more pressure on services and delay the recovery from the longest strike in the NHS’s history. Millions of patients are languishing on waiting lists with more than 1.2 million appointments and operations cancelled due to industrial action in the last year. This shows patients are the ones paying the price for the dispute.

“We hope the BMA and NHS can cooperate over time critical recall requests and that the recall process runs smoothly in the best interest of patients.”