Cases of the winter vomiting bug jump by 14% in one week

Cases of the winter vomiting bug are continuing to soar – causing ‘mayhem’ on the NHS, official statistics reveal.

Government figures show 1,887 people have been struck down with norovirus since July, compared to 1,649 last week – a 14 per cent jump.

Concerns have been raised that the ‘nightmare situation’ will only escalate further – with the winter pressures having only just begun.

 It comes at time when the health service is already bracing itself for the dreaded ‘Aussie flu’, expected to be the ‘worst outbreak in 50 years’.

They are expecting an aggressive strain of the virus to begin circulating within the next few weeks which mostly affects the elderly and young children.

Government figures show 1,887 people have been struck down with norovirus since July, compared to 1,649 last week – a 14 per cent jump

The same strain wreaked havoc in Australia and led to one of the worst-ever flu seasons, with a record number of hospital admissions.

Richard Conroy, founder of Sick Holiday, warned norovirus could cause a ‘double-whammy’ on the NHS that could ‘decimate an already stretched workforce’.

He said: ‘Not only are staff having to deal with norovirus cases, but doctors and nurses will be coming down with the virus themselves.

‘It’s a nightmare situation for all concerned. 

‘Yes, the NHS will have put measures in place to prepare for situations like this, but I’d argue that any norovirus outbreak will still cause mayhem. 

‘It won’t just affect frontline staff, planned surgeries could also be affected, as members of those teams drop like flies, too.’

Ambulance delay problems 

And separate data shows the health service is beginning to fall victim to the seasonal strain, with ambulance delays rising by 20 per cent in a week.

NHS England data revealed 14,300 people were forced to wait more than 30 minutes to be taken to hospital this week, compared to 11,900 the seven days prior. 


Some of Australia’s A&E units had ‘standing room only’ after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain.

Official figures are yet to confirm how many people have lost their lives to this year’s outbreak, but 370 deaths have been reported so far.

The elderly with their compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible, and a spike in cases among young children has also been shown.

Professor Paul Van Buynder, chair of Australia’s Immunisation Coalition, previously said it was the ‘largest outbreak we’ve seen for some time’.

The flu season in the UK and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere tends to mirror what has happened in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere.

The same strains of the virus will circulate north in time for the British flu season, which typically begins in November and lasts until March.

But there are concerns the vaccine, made by World Health Organisation scientists, will prove to be ineffective as it will not match the H3N2 strain.

Scientists create the vaccines in March, based on which flu strains they expect to be in circulation. They are then given out in September.

Some health experts in Australia have blamed the severe outbreak on it having mutated. The vaccine used in the UK will be very similar.

This year’s norovirus outbreak is believed to be adding to the huge pressure on the NHS, with experts worried hospitals are ‘imploding’ under the strain.

Pressure on the NHS 

The spike in cases has been blamed as a factor for some hospitals having 99 per cent bed occupancies – far above the recommended 85 per cent.

And campaigners fear it will be a disastrous winter amid soaring waiting lists in A&E – which this year hit their worst levels since records began 15 years ago. 

Concerned doctors warned patients will have to ‘sleep, take paracetamol and pray’ ahead of the impending winter crisis.  


Health bosses will use the latest technology to try to cope with surges in demand on services this winter.

A sickness surveillance system based on data gathered by Public Health England will be used by the NHS to track outbreaks of norovirus and other illnesses around the country.

The findings will allow the NHS to anticipate rises in hospital admissions and produce a planned response; for example, rescheduling planned surgery and freeing up beds for those most in need.

The data was first gathered in 2012 to try to predict illnesses that could have affected the Olympic Games.

This year, that information is being fed back into the system through regional winter operations teams – and combined with weather forecasts – to help manage pressures and anticipate surges.

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, warned last week that all hospitals can see is ‘pressure, pressure and more pressure’.

He described the health service as being on a ‘knife-edge’ and warned some planned operations are already being cancelled.

The latest Public Health England figures come as the number of patients in hospital suffering from norovirus soared by 70 per cent in a week.

NHS data released last week revealed there were 1,336 patients in hospital – up from the 790 recorded in the previous seven days.

What is norovirus? 

Norovirus is one of the most common stomach infections in the UK and it is referred to winter vomiting bug as it usually occurs at this time of year.

Usually it clears up by itself within 24 to 48 hours but it can very serious for already frail patients, and can lead to dehydration.

The virus, which can also cause diarrhoea, is extremely contagious and can create huge disruption in hospitals as it spreads so quickly between patients.

But the winter vomiting bug has a tendency to mutate and some strains are worse than others, leading to higher numbers of infections.

The latest figures, released by Public Health England, have been increasing at a similar rate week-on-week since October.

Although norovirus is a huge burden on the health service, cases are down nine per cent on the average for the past five years.

Plugged with extra money 

Before the winter struck hospitals were given an extra £335 million as part of the Budget to help manage winter pressures.

They will be expected to use their share of the money by paying for extra staff in A&E, including GPs who can assess patients on arrival. 

The worries follow last year’s winter crisis, which saw health secretary Jeremy Hunt beg people to stay away from turmoil-hit hospitals.

The Red Cross branded the situation a ‘humanitarian crisis’ – a term used to describe the devastating civil war in Syria and Yemen.