The NHS is under mounting pressure after flu admissions surged almost 80 percent in a week and seven-fold in a month. An average of 3,746 sufferers were in hospital in England across the seven days to December 25, according to NHS England.
This is up 79 percent from 2,088 the week before and more than seven times higher than the 520 in the week ending November 27.
It comes as shocking pictures show patients lying on the floor at Aintree Hospital’s A&E, in Liverpool.
One eyewitness in the department described the scene as “soul-destroying”.
They said: “All the beds were full and the patients were being treated in the back of ambulances outside.
“There were loads of people being treated in the doorway to A&E and nurses who had time to help had to just jump in when they could.
“People were waiting up to 21 hours just to be seen and there were people lying on the floor, some because they were in that much pain.”
The Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, said the demand on A&E was “unprecedented”.
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “These figures provide further evidence, were it needed, of a service over-stretched. It’s very worrying to see flu admissions rising so steeply, alongside so many other pressures, contributing to unacceptably high bed occupancy rates which make it much harder to ensure safe high-quality care.
“Increased staff sickness is another concern, compounding severe workforce shortages. This is impacting on care right through the system, including ambulances, hospital A&Es, mental health and community services.
“Staff are working flat out in very difficult circumstances to minimise disruption for patients.”
NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis warned of a “twindemic” of flu and Covid. He urged eligible people to get vaccinated for flu and Covid to help ease pressure on the health service.
He said: “Sadly, these latest flu numbers show our fears of a ‘twindemic’ have been realised. It is clear this is no time to be complacent and the risk of illness is very real.
“So with nearly 350,000 available appointments next week it is important that everyone eligible comes forward and gets their Covid and flu jabs at the earliest opportunity.”
There were just 34 people with flu in hospital this time last year, with only two in critical care.
The surge in viruses has also hit staff numbers in a further strain on the NHS, which is also grappling with strikes by nurses and ambulance workers amid pay disputes.