Britain is braced for an outbreak of flu with the NHS aiming to free up thousands of extra hospital beds in time for winter.
People have been advised to get a flu jab ahead of the winter, which could bring a ‘pressurised’ flu season, the head of NHS England has warned.
It follows worrying scenes where hospitals in Australia and New Zeland were forced to close as the number of people coming down with flu skyrocketed.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said the health service is reviewing the outbreak in the southern hemisphere amid fears it could make its way to the UK.
He told delegates at the NHS Expo conference in Manchester: ‘The signs from Australia and New Zealand, who are just coming out of their winter, are that it has been a heavy flu season and many of the hospitals down there have struggled to cope.
‘We know that there is a great deal of work to be done over the next six to eight weeks with our partners in local authorities to put the NHS on the right footing for the winter ahead.’
He added: ‘The signs from the Southern Hemisphere winter have been that flu has been much higher and it has been the variety that puts the most pressure on the old people’s services like care homes.
‘We are reviewing the Australia and New Zealand experience, where hospitals have closed to new patients and reported very long waiting times.
‘The evidence is we are likely to have a more pressurised flu season this year.’
Mr Stevens explained that the plan is to make up to 3,000 beds available in preparation for the winter.
Paul Cosford, medical director at Public Health England, said: ‘The strains of flu circulating in Australia this past winter have led to a significant increase in cases but it’s too early to know which will be the dominant strain(s) of flu to circulate in England.
‘Each year, the World Health Organisation reviews the circulating strains of flu and recommends which flu strains should go in the vaccine.
‘It’s really important that as many eligible people as possible get their jab which is the best way to protect everyone from flu.’