Doctors’ vaccine plea as winter viruses creep up

Hospital admissions for flu, norovirus and respiratory syncytial virus are rising as cold weather bites. The trend is expected to continue as people spend more time indoors at Christmas.

An average of 406 patients were in hospital last week with norovirus, up 15% on the previous seven days. Flu admissions rose by 53% to 234, but were two-thirds fewer than in 2022, while 146 children were in hospital with RSV – up 11% week on week.

Prof Julian Redhead, NHS England’s national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said the data came as no surprise to frontline medics.

He added: “As we experience more spells of cold weather and people gathering indoors for festive events…we expect to see a continued increase in winter viruses spreading.” Prof Redhead urged people to get their flu and Covid jabs. There were 2,400 patients with Covid in NHS and independent hospitals on Sunday, but the virus may not have always been the main reason for admission.

Richard Jennings is chief medical officer at St George’s, Epsom and St Helier Hospital Group. He said: “Our three emergency departments are responding to very high demand.

“We are seeing an increase in people coming with norovirus and flu – both of which can make vulnerable people very poorly.”

It comes as bosses prepare for nine days of action by junior doctors this month and in January. Rory Deighton, NHS Confederation acute network director, said that staff who were putting in “a Herculean effort” to prepare for winter “can only cope with so much before patient safety is jeopardised”.

He added: “The risk is that this fresh wave of industrial action will pile even more pressure on to already stretched services. It is not too late for the BMA to change its mind and for the Government to commence fresh talks in the interest of patients.”

An average of 47,000 staff were off work each day last week, up 800 on the week, and 12,883 patients were stuck on wards although fit to go home – often awaiting social or community care.

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