18th January 2018 – The NHS remains under pressure as a result of winter flu, with 42% more people seeing their GP in the second week of the month than in the previous 7 days.
The statistics from Public Health England (PHE) show an 11% increase in the flu hospitalisation rate over the past week. However, it says "various indicators show the rate of increase is slowing".
Professor Paul Cosford, PHE's medical director, says in a statement: "Our data continues to show that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospital with flu.
"In terms of hospital admission, this is the most significant flu season since the winter of 2010/11 and the preceding pandemic year of 2009 although it is not an epidemic."
There were 198 admissions to hospital intensive care units in England during the second week of the month, official figures show.
An NHS England spokesperson says in a statement: "Raised levels of flu and norovirus continue to put pressure on busy A&Es and other frontline services but today's figures show pressures abating somewhat compared to the prior week, and with hospitals generally continuing to cope."
In addition to new intensive care cases, there were 598 admissions to hospital wards in England – down from 758 the previous week.
Cases of the A/H3N2 strain of flu known as 'Aussie Flu' represented 8% of hospitalised cases – a significant drop from the 20.7% of cases last week.
According to PHE, "influenza activity continues to increase across several surveillance indicators although there are signs that some are stabilising".
The new figures show a "significant excess" of deaths among people over 65 in England, and among people in all age groups in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The statistics have emerged as health bosses are being accused of contributing to a rise in flu cases this winter by buying stocks of a cheaper vaccine that offers less protection against so-called 'Japanese flu'.
Out of the 598 people admitted to general hospital wards in England last week, 61% had a B strain of the virus.
This year's B strain has predominantly been the Yamagata – or Japanese – type of flu.
Was there a better vaccine?
Most people eligible for a flu jab have been given a 3-in-1 vaccine, despite a 4-in-1 alternative, called the quadrivalent vaccine, being available.
Experts say only the 4-in1 vaccine contains the specific Yamagata strain, although they say some protection should be offered by the inclusion of a B strain in the standard flu jab.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, says in a statement: "Not using the quadrivalent vaccine has increased the risk of flu admissions this year.
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