Flu patient numbers continue to surge as ambulance handover delays hit new high

ITV News' Rachel Townsend was invited into the Chesterfield Royal Hospital to see how staff and patients are coping with growing pressure on services

Flu cases in hospitals in England are continuing to rise while ambulance handover delays have hit a record high, new figures show, as the NHS continues to struggle with bed shortages and a surge in winter viruses.

An average of 5,105 flu patients were in general hospital beds last week, up 47% on the previous week and nearly seven times the number at the start of December, NHS England figures indicate.

Patients in critical care beds have also jumped sharply, up 26% week-on-week from 267 to 336.

At this stage last winter, just 38 patients were in hospital with flu and only two in critical care.

What does the latest data tell us about ambulance delays and hospital bed capacity?

  • Ambulance handover delays climbed to a new high last week, with more than a quarter (26%) of patients waiting over an hour to be handed to A&E teams and around four in 10 (44%) waiting at least 30 minutes.

  • This compares with 10% waiting over an hour at this point last year while 23% waited at least half an hour. The high level of delays reflects the ongoing struggle faced by hospitals to find space for new arrivals.

  • An average of 12,809 beds a day last week were filled with patients ready to leave, up almost a third on the figure for this time last year (9,858).

As the crisis in the NHS was laid bare, Rishi Sunak acknowledged on Friday the health service is under “enormous pressure”.

The prime minister repeated his commitment to tackling waiting lists outlined in a major speech on Wednesday, while once again blaming the Covid-19 pandemic for the current challenges.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a school in London, Mr Sunak was asked if people "unnecessarily dying" troubled him.

The prime minister admitted today that the NHS is under enormous pressure - Emily Morgan takes a closer look at the figures behind that pressure

He replied: “The NHS is obviously under enormous pressure as we recover from Covid and I have enormous admiration for all the people working incredibly hard in the NHS right now to help get us through that.

“We are supporting them with billions of pounds of extra funding but in particular this winter what we want to do is make sure that we move people out of hospitals into social care, into communities – that is one of the most powerful ways we can ease some of the pressures on A&E departments and ambulances that are waiting too long.”

The government will meet with union bosses on Monday to discuss the ongoing NHS and public sector strikes

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has blamed high numbers of flu cases, Covid-19 and Strep A fears for the particular pressures the NHS faced over Christmas.

Senior doctors say the NHS is on a knife edge, with many A&Es struggling to keep up with demand and trusts and ambulance services having recently declared critical incidents.

An email leaked to ITV News earlier this week revealed that ambulances in London will only wait for 45 minutes before leaving patients on trolleys in corridors to be looked after by hospital staff.

The decision came amid reports of paramedics being left waiting for hours outside hospitals before being able to hand over patients to overstretched A&E departments.

Commenting after the latest NHS England figures were released, NHS national medical director for England Professor Sir Stephen Powis described the "enormous pressure" weighing down on the health service.

“We knew this winter would be one of the most difficult in the history of the NHS and I want to thank staff for all their hard work in caring for and treating so many patients while dealing with record demand on services, including the enormous pressure from flu and Covid," he said.

“The plans we announced last autumn will help ensure we are in the best place possible to provide care for patients at this incredibly challenging time, with extra call handlers in place, community services established to help keep people out of hospital where possible, and we’re also continuing to make good progress to put the equivalent of 7,000 extra beds in place by March.”

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