GP practices in England saw a 150% increase in patients’ attendance for influenza-like-symptoms (ILI) since the beginning of 2018, latest figures published by the Royal College of GPs’ Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC) have shown.
During the second week of January (8-14 January), the RSC registered an increase more than 9,000 (42%) extra patients presenting to GP practices with flu-related symptoms in comparison with the previous week, for a total of around 31,300 patients.
The worst affected region was the Midlands and East England, with 57.9 patients per 100,000 population presented with ILI in comparison with 35.5 per 100,000 the previous week.
Commenting on the findings, chair of the RCGP professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that GP practices are continuing to face huge winter pressure challenges.
She said: ‘Wintertime always brings challenges for the health service, and GP practices have prepared well in order to deliver the best possible care for patients.
Ms Stokes-Lampard suggested patients should consider whether they actually need to see a GP and think about self-care.
‘We do encourage patients who are ill to think hard about whether they do need to see a GP – not just in terms of reducing pressures on the NHS, but to minimise the possibility of passing viruses, such as flu, to other people, particularly in at-risk groups, such as those with long-term conditions or pregnant women,’ she said.
Following an increase in respiratory illness and flu adding pressures on general practice, the CQC decided to suspend investigations in good and outstanding GP practices for the month of January.
A universal vaccine
The RSC has commented that, although current flu rates in primary care still fall within the ‘medium threshold’, the situation is escalating rapidly for those aged over 65.
It comes as the world first NHS trial for a universal flu vaccine, led by Oxford University and Vaccitech has concluded its first phase of the trial, which saw around 862 over 65 participants taking part since it was launched in October 2017.
Researchers have found that current vaccine are only 30-40% effective in over 65s. They are therefore trying to find out if a combination of old and a new vaccine that stimulates the immune system to boost the number of influenza-specific T-cells could help saving more lives.
Public Health England (PHE) also said that according to their statistics, more people attended GP practices for ILI last week in comparison with the previous one, registering a 42% increase in consultation rate.
Medical director at PHE professor Paul Cosford said: ‘In terms of hospital admission, this is the most significant flu season since the winter of 2010/11 and the preceding pandemic year of 2009 although it is not an epidemic.’