Hundreds struck down in flu epidemic as pressure increases on region's hospitals
Flu cases have hit 250 and counting in the last three weeks across the Black Country and Staffordshire – piling more pressure on already buckling hospitals.
Health officials have even ‘paused’ some routine inspections of NHS services in January due to the rising demand on services.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) announced that inspections planned for NHS trusts and GP services rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ would be rescheduled. A normal inspection regime will resume in February.
“The entire health and social care system is at full stretch – now an increase in respiratory illness and flu has further intensified this pressure,” said Sir David Behan, chief executive of the CQC. The Flusurvey map –created by Public Health England – shows where flu like illnesses have been reported across the region.
Walsall has seen 34 cases in the past three weeks, Dudley 26, Wolverhampton 10, Birmingham 136 and Stafford 52.
Dr Colin Flenley from Portland Medical Practice in Aldridge said ‘Aussie flu’ – the flu strain H3N2 – which has been reported is ‘a particularly virulent strain’ of the illness.
Some scientists even fear H3N2 could also prove as deadly to humanity as the Hong Kong flu in 1968 when one million people died.
H3N2 has been dubbed ‘Aussie flu’ because it is the same strain that caused problems during the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere.
Dr Flenley said: “The rise is partly down to the Aussie flu that was expected – and had been planned for with the flu vaccine. This had been predicted but it’s more virulent and the flu vaccine gives you some protection but not always complete protection. Anyone who has got the flu virus should try to avoid spreading it.”
Dr Helen Carter, deputy director at Public Health England (PHE) West Midlands, said: “Our data shows that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospitals with the flu. 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. The vaccine is the best defence we have and it isn’t too late for people to get vaccinated.”
Figures from Public Health England show that during the last week of 2017, there were 114 patients newly admitted to intensive care units or high dependency units with flu. This included 17 confirmed cases of the H3N2 strain.
“Anyone concerned about symptoms should stay at home and contact their GP or call 111 to seek further advice.