High flu rate continues to put pressure on GPs

GP practices are continuing to face high rates of consultations for flu, official NHS data confirm.

GP consultation (Photo: iStock)
GP consultation (Photo: iStock)

Consultation rates for influenza-like illness rose in Wales in the week to 8 February, from 53 per 100,000 patients to 55.1 - and the country remains in the highest category on the European 'moving epidemic method' scale.

In England, the GP consultation rate for flu dropped from 52 to 43 per 100,000 - but cases remain more than three times above the baseline threshold that indicates raised circulation of flu in the community. NHS England has confirmed that flu levels this winter are the worst since 2010/11.

Scotland and Northern Ireland saw significant drops in rates of flu consultations in the week to 8 February, but also remain above baseline rates.

The latest data come after NHS England wrote to GP practices reminding them about which vaccines to order for 2018/19 to ensure the vaccination programme ahead of next winter is as effective as possible.

Winter pressure

In England, the highest rates of flu consultations were among 45- to 64-year-olds, with 56.3 per 100,000 patients. In Wales, consultations rose to 71.8 per 100,000 in this age group.

Statistically significant excess mortality from flu has been recorded in every week since the penultimate week of 2017, official data from Public Health England show.

Data on winter pressures published earlier on Thursday confirmed that hospitals are continuing to struggle, with numbers of patients treated within four hours in A&E at their lowest point in a decade according to the King's Fund.

The RCGP has welcomed advice for GP practices on next year's flu vaccination programme. College chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard hoped early advice highlighting that practices should order the adjuvanted trivalent vaccine for over-65s and quadrivalent vaccine for patients aged 18-65 in at-risk groups would help boost patients' confidence in vaccination.

Vaccination uptake in at risk groups ahead of the 2017/18 flu season was fractionally above the level recorded a year earlier. Among over-65s 72.4 received a flu jab, while 48.7% of under-65s in clinical at-risk groups and 47.1% of pregnant women were vaccinated.

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