The number of people with norovirus in hospital in England is 179% higher than the average at this time of year, official data shows, as the NHS comes under mounting winter pressure.
Admissions caused by the vomiting and diarrhoea-causing norovirus have surged and cases of other seasonal viruses are also rising, according to NHS England figures. Health chiefs said the impact on hospitals from seasonal viruses was likely to be worsened by the current cold weather.
“We all know somebody who has had some kind of nasty winter virus in the last few weeks,” said Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director.
“Today’s data shows this is starting to trickle through to hospital admissions, with a much higher volume of norovirus cases compared to last year, and the continued impact of infections like flu and RSV in children on hospital capacity – all likely to be exacerbated by this week’s cold weather.”
On average, 351 adult hospital beds in England were occupied every day last week by patients with diarrhoea and vomiting or norovirus-like symptoms. That was nearly three times the average of 126 for the equivalent week in 2022. There were also an average of 13 children with the virus in hospital each day, compared with just three at this point last year.
Norovirus spreads easily through contact with someone who has the virus or with contaminated surfaces. Most people will make a full recovery within a few days. However, the virus can lead to dehydration, especially among the young, elderly people or those with weakened immune systems.
The figures were published as part of the first weekly snapshot of how NHS hospitals in England are performing this winter. One in four patients arriving by ambulance at hospitals last week waited at least 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E teams. Across all hospital trusts in the week to 26 November, 22,588 delays of half an hour or longer were recorded.
An average of 160 flu patients were in hospital beds in England each day last week, well below the average of 520 at this point last year. Seven flu patients were in critical care beds compared with 38 for the equivalent week in 2022.
Last year’s was the worst flu season for a decade, with the outbreak having greater impact due to lower population immunity, with little or no flu circulating during the previous two winters when Covid control measures were in place.
There were 419,676 calls to the NHS 111 service last week. The new data also shows an average of 46,201 staff a day were off work sick last week, of which 1,715 absences were due to Covid-19.
Powis added: “It is clear that, even before we enter December, the demand on hospitals and staff is high, with more than 1,200 extra patients in hospital compared to last year, and we know that is likely to grow considerably before Christmas.”