The NHS could face increased pressure from an influenza outbreak this winter after a heavy flu season in Australia and New Zealand.
Australia is currently in the grip of its worst flu outbreak on record, and the global circulation of the virus means that episodes in the Antipodes and Asia are indicators of the likelihood of outbreaks in Europe later in the year.
By mid-August there had been 70,000 cases of flu reported, with a high number of cases among children being blamed for driving up numbers. Just 10% of Australian children receive a flu vaccine.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said that while the service is well prepared for winter, with plans for between 2,000 and 3,000 more beds to be made available than last year, it faces much “real pressure” from the traditional peak of winter demand.
He warned that GP services and hospitals will come under the most pressure if the H3 virus prevalent in the Antipodes replicates in the UK.
“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,” Mr Stevens said.