Simultaneous big waves of Covid and flu – the ‘twindemic’ experts warned of as people returned to ‘normal’ pre-pandemic mixing – cost the NHS this winter, say NHS bosses.
NHS England chief strategy officer Chris Hopson said hospital pressures in England peaked on 29 December.
The workload involved gave hospitals a “significant problem” at the turn of the year, he said.
It was at this point that record-long waits at A&E were seen.
Since then the pressures have begun to ease a little.
Speaking to MPs on the House of Commons’ health committee, Mr Hopson said: “The issue was always going to be this winter was the degree to which we saw prevalence of both Covid and flu and the degree to which they combined.
“Now we’re obviously not through winter yet but the really important point – that I don’t think has come out enough – is both Covid and flu peaked so far on 29 December.”
He suggested that when NHS bosses were planning for winter that was very much the worst scenario.
At the turn of the year one in eight beds were occupied by patients with either Covid or flu.
And Mr Hopson added this combined with the 12,000 beds occupied by patients medically fit to leave but unable to be discharged because of the lack of support in the community meant more than a quarter of beds were lost.
“It gives a significant problem in terms of patient flow, which then means you get the back up right the way through the system.”
During the last week of 2022 that more than 40% of ambulances arriving at A&Es faced delays handing over patients to hospital staff.
This contributed to record long waiting times for ambulances to get out to new cases, while inside A&E more than a third of patients were waiting over four hours.
Earlier in the session Adrian Boyle, of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, described it as the NHS’ worst-ever December.
But he said there was a “complex” range of factors that contributed to the pressures, including staffing shortages and a lack of beds after significant cuts to bed numbers over the years, which has left the NHS with one of the lowest number per head of population in western Europe.
“There is no magic fix,” he added.