The number of flu patients in critical care beds in England has soared by 86% in a week, with numbers now outstripping COVID-19 patients for the first time this winter.
NHS figures released today show there were 186 critically ill flu patients in English hospitals on 18 December, compared to 102 a week before.
The change in critically ill COVID patients during this period was less steep, rising from 146 to 182.
The overall number of flu patients in hospital in England has rocketed too, with an average of 1,939 in hospital each day last week, up 67% on 1,162 the previous week.
This is also a sharp increase compared to the daily average of 482 at the end of November.
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Last week flu-related hospitalisations overtook COVID-19 admissions for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Admissions stood at 6.8 per 100,000 people in the week to 11 December, compared to 6.6 per 100,000 for COVID-19.
It is a sign that flu is becoming steadily more prevalent among the population, with the UK Health Security Agency warning related hospital admissions are running at a higher rate than in any week during the previous four winters.
NHS England national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis urged those eligible to get their flu and COVID jabs.
He added: “As well as the impact of industrial action last week, it is clear that the NHS is facing enormous pressure ahead of Christmas with the number of flu cases in hospital and in intensive care rising week-on-week, on top of significant increases in staff sickness rates and near-record demand for services like 111.
“Despite this, NHS staff continue to deliver a significant amount for patients – dealing with near record 111 calls as well as continuing to make progress on Covid-19 backlogs.
“With more industrial action scheduled for next week, there will be disruption but we urge the public to continue to use services wisely by continuing to call 999 for life-threatening emergencies, use 111 online for other health conditions, and take sensible steps to keep yourself and others safe.
“The NHS has prepared for winter extensively with more beds, extra call handlers as well as the expansion of falls response services, control centres and respiratory hubs, but with flu hospitalisations and Covid cases on the rise, the best things you can do to protect yourself is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible.”