That NHS in England is facing a “perfect winter storm” with 10 times more people in hospital with flu than this time last year and ambulances experiencing deadly delays in arriving at A&E with sick patients.
There were an average of 344 patients a day in hospitals in England with flu last week, more than 10 times the number at the beginning of December last year.
And as many as three in 10 patients who arrive at hospitals by ambulance wait at least 30 minutes to be handed over to emergency teams. Health bosses say the crisis is leading to deaths.
Some 22,883 delays of half an hour or longer were recorded across all hospital trusts in the week to November 20, figures show. This represents 29% of the 79,076 arrivals by ambulance. The share increased by a whopping 23% during the winter 2021/22.
The flu and ambulance delay figures were published by NHS England on Thursday and provided the first weekly snapshot of how hospitals are doing this season.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents the health system in England, said: “These figures really highlight how stretched services already are as we head into a perfect winter storm. Significantly higher numbers of people are in hospital on due to influenza compared to this time last year, combined with the fact that Covid-19 has not gone away.”
The weekly NHS snapshot report also revealed that around 13% of ambulance transfers last week – equivalent to 10,020 patients – were delayed by more than an hour.
Martin Flaherty, chief executive of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, said patients were being harmed by being “forced to wait in the back of our ambulances while our crews are stuck and therefore unable to respond to patients, who need us out together”.
He added: “The life-saving safety net that NHS ambulance services provide is seriously compromised by these unnecessary delays and patients die and are injured as a result on a daily basis.”
The figures are yet another sign of the pressure hospitals are facing, amid a record backlog of treatment and delays in discharging people who no longer need to be in hospital. On average, 13,179 beds per day last week were occupied by people ready to be discharged.
Prof Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said: “The first weekly data this year shows the significant pressures facing staff ahead of what is likely to be the NHS’s most challenging winter ever.”
NHS Digital Figures also showed that the number of written complaints about primary care, from GPs and dental practices, rose 39.4% to 120,064 in 2021-22, with communication, clinical care and staff attitude, behavior or values the most common causes of problems with GPs.
Louise Ansari, national director at Healthwatch England, said the figures “reflect the growing dissatisfaction that patients are reporting to us, particularly over access to general practitioners and dentists”.
GPs completed a record number of appointments in England in October, with the highest proportion of patients being seen face-to-face since the start of the pandemic, new figures show. More than seven in 10 people (71.3%) were seen face-to-face, the highest proportion since the coronavirus outbreak began, but still below the pre-pandemic level of around 80%.
However, separate data from NHS Digital shows that the number of full-time equivalent qualified permanent GPs has fallen year-on-year for the fifth consecutive month.