GP workload soars as seasonal illness compounds growing flu crisis

Last week's huge rise in flu presentations was matched by similar increases in other respiratory diseases including asthma and acute bronchitis, piling yet more pressure onto GP workloads, the RCGP has warned.

Figures from the RCGP’s Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC) suggest nearly 22,000 patients in general practice were affected by flu over the first week of 2018.

The figures formed part of the government’s flu report published yesterday, which showed flu is now circulating at an elevated level of ‘medium’ intensity in England, at a prevalence of 37.3 presentations per 100,000 patients.

But the RCGP has now revealed that presentations for other respiratory diseases and asthma also saw sharp rises over this week.

Acute bronchitis climbed from 116.9 to 146.6 per 100,000 patients, while incidence of the common cold went from 116.5 up to 142.6 per 100,000.

This is in addition to presentations for the common cold rising from 116.5 to 142.6 and other respiratory system illnesses from 355.3 to 463.2 per 100,000.

Winter illnesses

Altogether, an estimated 21,736 patients presented at their GP surgery with influenza-like illness across the week, a 78% increase over the week before.

And when compared to this same time last year, presentations for all of these conditions were significantly higher compared than in week 1 of 2017.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘These figures back up what GPs across the country are telling us, and certainly what I’ve been seeing in my own surgery in Lichfield; things are incredibly busy, and demand is increasing – not just with flu but other common winter illnesses as well.

‘GPs and our teams are working extremely hard as these pressures intensify, as are our colleagues right across the NHS. Practices have put measures in place to cope, including running additional surgeries to release capacity to deliver more urgent care for patients.’

Professor Simon de Lusignan, medical director for the RCGP RSC, said: ‘We can certainly say last week that flu in England took off, crossing the medium threshold.

‘However, given how unpredictable flu can be, it is impossible to speculate how this will progress moving forward – rates may increase further, they may level out or even decline.

‘The RSC will be keeping a very close eye on rates over the next couple of weeks, and continue compiling data so that we can inform preparedness plans for next year as well as possible.’

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