NHS faces record pressure as winter kicks in

The NHS says it is 'pulling out all the stops' as winter kicks in and puts pressure on the system, as official figures show record numbers of patients visited health services last week.

Winter: NHS under pressure
Winter: NHS under pressure

There were 110,100 emergency admissions to hospital last week, which officials warn is one of the highest numbers since records began.

Nearly 30,000 more than the quarterly average attended A&E during the same period, significantly impacting on performance, NHS England stats show.

GP consultations for influenza-like illnesses, respiratory tract infections, pneumonia have also risen over the last week, according to Public Health England (PHE) figures.

Incidence of severe asthma has particularly risen, it warned, especially among 5-14 year olds.

This is despite planning to tackle winter pressures commencing earlier than ever before this year, in June.

Level 2 Cold Weather Alert

Public Health England (PHE) and the CMO have repeatedly issued renewed calls to ensure high-risk groups – including toddlers, healthcare professionals and pregnant women – receive their dose of the flu vaccine to limit the disease's impact.

NHS England has now injected an extra £50m to support all levels of the NHS in tackling the surge of winter illnesses. Ambulance trusts will receive the lion's share.

On Thursday, a Level 2 Cold Weather Alert was issued across North East England, North West England and Yorkshire and the Humber. All other regions remain at Cold Weather Alert Level 1, and have since 1 November.

Dr Barbara Hakin, national director of commissioning operations for NHS England, said: ‘This week saw over 110,100 emergency admissions to hospital and 436,229 attendances – up nearly 30,000 on the average for the same week over the past years.

‘Unsurprisingly, this level of demand continues to put extra pressure on our hospitals but the NHS remains resilient and is pulling out all the stops, with local hospitals, ambulances, GPs, home health services and local councils all working hard to open extra beds and seven day services using the extra winter funding that has been made available.’

GPs 'struggling to cope'

BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter warned that the figures pointed to a ‘system cracking under extreme pressure’.

He said: ‘This is not just a crisis in emergency care – bed shortages and high numbers of patients inappropriately in hospital beds are now major stress factors on the system, leading to unacceptable delays in treating and discharging patients. Outside of hospitals, GP surgeries are struggling to cope with unprecedented levels of demand.

‘Front-line staff are working flat-out but the system can’t cope with the sheer number of patients coming through the door.’

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