Flu cases remain at highest point this year as outbreak levels off

GPs are still dealing with a 'huge number of patients' with flu and other respiratory conditions, as the latest figures suggest that the number of cases is beginning to level off.

GP consultations for flu-like symptoms rose very slightly in England in the week 15-21 January, fell in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but increased by 20% in Wales, where numbers of cases remain classed as being at a 'high' level.

England, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain at a ‘moderate’ level of flu activity. However, consultation rates are much higher than the same period last year and have increased significantly since the end of 2017. Last week the RCGP warned that flu presentations in general practice had risen by 153% since the start of the year.

Consultation rates in Wales for the week until 21 January rose to 74.7 per 100,000 population compared with 62.1 per 100,000 the previous week.

However the consultation rate in England remains largely unchanged, rising by just over 1,000 consultations from 53.1 per 100,000 to 54.1 per 100,000. Consultations for flu-like illness fell in the North, Midlands and East regions, but increased in London and the South.

'Not out of the woods'

Despite the figures, the RCGP warned that the NHS was ‘not out of the woods yet’ adding that this year’s virus was ‘incredibly unpredictable’.

Nationally, presentations of respiratory conditions in general practice have also remained largely unchanged in the week 15-21 January compared with the previous week, although presentations of asthma increased slightly from 17.7 per 100,000 population to 20.8 per 100,000.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, said: ‘Whilst influenza rates have levelled out for now, this means that there are still huge numbers of patients being seen in general practice with flu and other common winter conditions – and GPs and our teams are certainly feeling the pressure.

'We continue to urge patients who are ill to think hard about whether they do need to see a GP – not just in terms of reducing pressures on the NHS, but to minimise the possibility of passing viruses, such as flu, to others.'

Professor Simon de Lusignan, medical director of the RCGP’s Research and Surveillance Centre, which compiles the data, said: 'Today’s figures show that rates of influenza-like illness presentations in general practice have flattened off, but they do remain above what we term the "medium" threshold overall, and rates in over 65-year-old patients remain above the ‘very high’ threshold.

‘We’re certainly not out of the woods yet this flu season as the influenza virus is incredibly unpredictable. It is quite possible that rates will rise again, although they may continue to level out or even decline.’

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