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‘Signs flu activity stabilising’, says public health body

Public Health England reported a 7% reduction in the flu hospitalisation rate last week compared to the previous week.

Flu levels “remain high” but have been stabilising in the last week with the death toll rising to 193, the latest official figures show.

Public Health England (PHE) said the figures, which cover the whole of the UK, show the outbreak is still less severe at this stage than in 2010/11.

It reported a stabilisation in the GP consultation rate, a 7% reduction in the flu hospitalisation rate, and a 26% reduction in the flu intensive care admission rate last week compared to the previous week.

But the Royal College of GPs warned that London, the Midlands and East regions had seen increases in the past week and said the virus could be “unpredictable”.

NHS England said raised levels of flu and norovirus cases were continuing to put a strain on accident and emergency services.

Its weekly data showed the number of ambulance delays at A&E departments of more than half-an-hour rose to 11,100 last week, up from 11,000 a week earlier.

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(PA Graphics)

Of these, 2,100 patients had to wait more than an hour to be seen after arriving at hospitals in England.

There were 43 incidents of ambulances being turned away from A&E departments and having to divert to others, compared with 20 the previous week.

NHS England said a broken CT scanner at one hospital accounted for many of these as patients had to be sent to other hospitals.

There was a fall in the number of bed closures due to norovirus or diarrhoea and vomiting, from an average of 742 per day to 672, but reports of norovirus remained above the five-year average for this week.

Richard Pebody, acting head of the respiratory diseases department at PHE, said: “We are continuing to see flu circulate, with signs that flu activity is stabilising.

“We are currently seeing a mix of flu types, including the A(H3N2) strain that circulated last winter in the UK and then in Australia and flu B.”

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, vice-chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We have seen a decrease in the overall number of flu presentations in general practice across England which is good news, but it is only slight, and, in fact, London and the Midland and East regions have seen increases in the past week.

“General practice is still under considerable pressure as we deal with these flu presentations in our surgeries and this latest data shows we’re still not out of winter pressures yet as the influenza virus can be very unpredictable.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “Raised levels of flu and norovirus cases continued to put pressure on busy hospitals and other frontline services last week.

“And while the NHS is generally coping with ongoing winter demands, the public can continue to play their part by using NHS 111 and pharmacists for advice.”

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