Winter viruses keeping the pressure on hospitals

Despite some improvements it is too early to say the NHS is over the hill.

18 January 2024

  • There was an average of 1,416 patients in hospital with flu each day last week, down 8.5% from 1,548 the previous week;
  • Some 452 adults were in hospital with norovirus every day last week on average, up by 6.8% from 423 the previous week;
  • An average of 3,949 beds were occupied by Covid-19 patients per day last week, down from 4,245 the previous week 
  • An average of 49,039 NHS staff were off sick last week, down 2.7% from 50,402 the previous week;
  • The proportion of ambulance handover delays of more than 30 minutes was 25.7% down from 30.8% the previous week, but above the 23.4% reported during the same week last year; and
  • Some 13,637 beds each day were filled with patients no longer meeting the criteria to reside in hospital on average last week, up 9% from 12,459 the previous week.  However, at the same time last year this was over 14,000.

Responding to NHS England's latest winter urgent and emergency care situation report Rory Deighton, director of the NHS Confederation’s Acute Network, said:

“Winter viruses are continuing to keep the pressure piled onto our hospitals, with NHS leaders and staff working tirelessly to keep patients safe. While it is welcome that performance has not fallen to the levels seen last year, which was the worst on record, no one can deny how challenging this winter has been. 

“It is testament to the incredible planning and concerted focus on emergency services that the health service did not buckle in the face of some of the toughest weeks it has ever faced due to the combination of winter pressures and industrial action. 

“The slight drop in flu and staff absence levels and improvement in ambulance handover delays are welcome but it is too early to say the NHS is over the hill. Bed occupancy is also still much too high – well above the safety threshold of 85% – while thousands of patients were stuck in hospital beds when they were well enough to leave.

“Our members are under no illusions that there is a long way to go to drive performance up to where we all want it to be. As well as the continued pressure of winter and the risk that the current cold snap could see a spike in demand, trusts also need to rebook the thousands of patients whose operations were cancelled due to industrial action. 

“Any further spike in demand or wave of industrial action could further throw this recovery further off course.”