Leicester public health boss urges caution as flu cases rise and hospitals struggle to cope

Professor Ivan Browne said people in Leicester 'shouldn't take flu lightly'

The Director for Public Health in Leicester city has urged locals not to worry, but to exercise caution as flu cases rise and the health service buckles under high demand for care.

Statistics indicate the East Midlands has seen a surge of scarlet fever cases - a type of Strep A - infections, and the borough of Melton has the highest Covid rate in the Midlands.

It comes as flu cases in the Midlands double in just a week, with the NHS also receiving a 'near record' number of 111 calls across the country as a whole.

The city's Director for Public Health, Professor Ivan Browne told ITV News Central that cases of flu, Covid, and Step A were all on the rise in both the city and the wider Midlands.

"Flu shouldn't be taken lightly," he said.

Prof Browne said: "It's a serious condition, so there's a number of things we can do that not just help us with flu, but with all those illnesses."

"We all remember catch it, bin it, kill it....hand washing is incredibly important...and of course you can still go and get your flu vaccination," he adds.

He said that vaccination was particularly important for those more vulnerable to flu, such as the immunosuppressed, the very young, and elderly people, and pointed out that this years vaccine does match the strain of the virus going around.

"It's not about being particularly worried, but it is about being cautious and recognising the health system is under some significant pressure, so anything we can do to prevent that, the better."

New figures for the week leading up to New Year’s Day showed that there were 1,465 patients with flu in hospital in the Midlands, up from 708 the previous week.

This year's flu season 'particularly busy'

Prof Browne said flu is always a problem that the NHS has to grapple with every year, and said the first Christmas in several years without coronavirus restrictions could have increase transmission

"I think sometimes we've forgotten that flu is always with us," he said. "For the last two or three years we've been concentrating on coronavirus, but actually flu seasons come and go and we had a suspicion that this season would be a busy one."

"This [flu season] has started early and appears to be a particularly busy flu season...for the last couple of years we've been doing all the things that have not only prevented the transmission of Covid, but have prevented the transmission of flu.

"So we've come back together at Christmas or New Year, and of course we're mixing, we're sharing, all the things that we need to pass on these viruses. So we've seen a sharp spike."

His comments come as a number of hospitals in the Midlands have declared critical incidents over recent weeks as demand soars, with nurses also walking out on strike.

Dr Vijay Rawal, Regional Medical Director for Primary Care at NHS England in the Midlands, said:

“Winter illnesses are on the rise because we’re mixing more and being close to others aids the spread of flu, norovirus and Covid-19. Anyone who is unwell should try to stay at home, but if they do need to go out for urgent items like medications or food then wearing a mask will reduce the risk to others."

“Flu can be very unpleasant and, in some cases, can lead to more serious illness. Getting yourself and your child vaccinated protects you and others you may come into contact with, and it’s still not too late to get protected.

"The flu vaccination is still available for all eligible groups and is the best protection against the virus. 

“It remains vital that people make the most of services like 111 online and as ever, only use 999 in an emergency."