A senior medic says he is “expecting severe difficulties” this weekend as the cold snap sets in and adds further stress to stretched NHS services.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said hospitals saw “fits and spells of manic activity” last week.
He said the number of cases of viral chest illness was growing and the outlook was “ominous” with colder temperatures now setting in.
Official figures from the week ending 23 December confirmed the rise to ‘moderate’ and highlighted the shortfall in vaccinations, with only 43.4% of those at risk under the age of 65 having had the vaccine.
“Influenza is here and is already impacting the NHS and, with colder weather starting to set in, this will further stress already stretched services,” he said.
“I and many colleagues across the country are anticipating mayhem this weekend as temperatures drop – but it will come as no surprise to us.
“There was a sense before Christmas that government and NHS leaders believed all was well despite only marginal performance differences to the crisis of 12 months ago.
“My feeling is that this was more out of hope than judgement and, sadly, the issues we have predicted for some time will soon take hold.
“Within the last week I have had colleagues warning of emergency departments and intensive care units being full and that will only worsen in the coming weeks.”
Dr Scriven said “skeleton staffing” in social care over the festive and New Year period meant many hospitals would be working flat out to clear patient discharges until the weekend that may have been on hold since Friday, 21 December.
“The issue around delays in social care arrangements over the festive period has always been an issue but, in light of added pressures in the NHS – staffing, demand, colder weather – the capacity problems this will cause could be profound.
“Most significantly, however, and most worryingly, is that the NHS is horrendously understaffed – more than 45% of consultant posts are unfilled, along with 11.6% of nursing posts.
“This will ultimately have a major impact on the ability of hospitals to cope.”