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Earlier norovirus outbreak adding to winter pressures on hospitals, NHS England warns

The number of patients in hospital with norovirus is triple that of this time last year and is adding to mounting winter pressures, NHS England figures show.

Surveillance data also shows so far in the 2023/24 season, the cumulative number of norovirus cases is 9% higher than the five-year average.

The increased rate is mostly accounted for by unusually high activity earlier in the season, according to a report from the UK Health Security Agency with data up to 19 November.

The data shows that cases had been increasing over the previous two weeks, but remain within the range of what might be seen for the time of year.

Overall, an average of 351 people were in hospital with diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms every day last week compared to 126 in the same week last year, NHS England said.

There were also 13 children with the virus in hospital each day, compared to an average of just three for the same period in 2022.

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Laboratory reports for rotavirus are also showing an increase with cumulative figures for the 2023/24 season 25% higher than the average for the past five years.

The figures suggest that winter pressures may be mounting on the NHS with adult bed occupancy already running at more than 95% and 1,200 more patients admitted than the end of November last year.

And problems with discharging patients from hospital into social and community care settings are continuing to have a ‘considerable impact’ with more than 12,600 adult beds a day occupied by people ready for discharge – one in seven of the total, the NHS said.

NHS England national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: ‘We all know somebody who has had some kind of nasty winter virus in the last few weeks and 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 respiratory syncytial virus in children on hospital capacity – all likely to be exacerbated by this week’s cold weather.‘

He added that staff were working hard to prepare for winter and there had been a significant reduction in ambulance handover delays. He also urged people to get their Covid and flu vaccines if they were eligible.

However, he concluded: ‘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.’

A version of this story was originally published by our sister publication Pulse.