Flu rises again in England putting increasing pressure on general practice services

Publication date: 11 January 2018

Flu affected nearly 22,000 patients in general practice in the first week of 2018, according to the latest figures from the Royal College of General Practitioners' Research and Surveillance Centre.

The latest weekly report, which looks at patient data from GP surgeries across England, also shows a rise in presentations of the common cold, acute bronchitis, respiratory system diseases and asthma:

  • Acute bronchitis: increased from 116.9 to 146.6 per 100,000 population
  • Asthma: increased from 13.3 to 16.2 per 100,000 population
  • Common cold: increased from 116.5 to 142.6 per 100,000 population
  • Influenza-like illness (ILI): increased from 21.0 to 37.3 per 100,000 population
  • Respiratory system diseases: increased from 355.3 to 463.2 per 100,000 population

In total patient numbers, an estimated 21,736 patients presented at their GP surgery with ILI in the first week of the year – an increase of 9,499 patients since the last week of 2017.

Compared to this week last year, the rate is higher (last year it was 10,955 patients) – but this could be explained as different strains of flu generally peak at different times; this year the prevalent strain is influenza B – which includes H3N2, or so-called 'Aussie flu' - whereas last year it was influenza A.

Over the same week, the following estimated numbers of patients presented in general practice with:

  • Acute bronchitis: 85,428 up from 68,121 the previous week
  • Asthma: 9,440 up from 7,750 the previous week
  • Common cold: 83,097 up from 67,888 the previous week
  • Respiratory system diseases: 269,919 up from 207,043 the previous week

These are the first figures of the year that illustrate the increasing pressures on GP practices, taking into account patient presentations at GP practices across England from 1-7 January.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "These figures back up what GPs across the country are telling us, and certainly what I've been seeing in my own surgery in Lichfield; things are incredibly busy, and demand is increasing – not just with flu but other common winter illnesses as well.

"GPs and our teams are working extremely hard as these pressures intensify, as are our colleagues right across the NHS. Practices have put measures in place to cope, including running additional surgeries to release capacity to deliver more urgent care for patients.

"We would also appeal to patients to really consider our '3 before GP' advice before they make a GP appointment and ask themselves whether they can self-care, search for information via a reputable UK source, such as NHS Choices, or seek advice from a pharmacist.

"This would help to control demand on GP services and give us the time to see those patients who need our care most urgently.

"Unfortunately, nothing will actually cure flu – we are reliant on our own immune systems fighting it off internally – but we would encourage patients to be as vigilant as they can in helping to prevent the spread of the virus, and recommend measures including regular handwashing and disposing of used tissues after sneezing and coughing.

"The flu jab is also still available for patients who have not yet been vaccinated and remains the best source of protection against the illness and we would particularly encourage patients in at-risk groups, such as those with long-term conditions and pregnant women, to have their flu jab, if they haven't already.

"Rest is best with the flu, drink plenty of fluids and take either paracetamol or ibuprofen to help minimise symptoms during recovery."

Professor Simon de Lusignan, Medical Director for the RCGP Research Surveillance Centre, said: "We can certainly say that last week was for flu in England took off, crossing the medium threshold. However, given how unpredictable flu can be, it is impossible to speculate how this will progress moving forward – rates may increase further, they may level out or even decline.

"The RSC will be keeping a very close eye on rates over the next couple of weeks, and continue compiling data so that we can inform preparedness plans for next year as well as possible."

Further Information

Calculations take the England population as 58,272,634 – the number of registered patients in England as of March 2017

Follow what is happening with the flu and other infections week-by-week at rcgp.org.uk/rsc

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7633/7410
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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