Published: 00:01, 16 September 2017
Health chiefs in Kent are preparing for what could be the worst flu season in NHS history.
More than 2,000 beds are being freed up nationwide to help with a predicted rise in people needing care.
Medical experts say data from Australia and New Zealand, which have just come out of winter, shows a huge rise in the illness.
The news comes as Medway Maritime Hospital is being given £1 million by the government to help cope with cold-month pressures.
The head of the NHS this week issued a warning of possibly the worst flu season in the health service’s 69-year history.
At a conference in Manchester, Simon Stevens said: “For the next three, four, five months the top priority for every leader, every part of the NHS is ensuring it goes into winter in as strong a position as possible.
“We know we’re going to have more hospital beds open, we know we are better prepared, but we also know the pressures are going to be real.”
He said NHS chiefs have been asked to free up more than 2,000 beds nationwide to help cope with demand.
In April, the Department of Health announced it would split £55.98 million between 70 hospitals to help cope during the colder months.
Medway is part of the third wave to receive a share of the money after being put under enormous pressure last winter.
Medway NHS Foundation Trust chief executive, Lesley Dwyer, said: “We are delighted to receive the additional £1 million to deliver high-quality care.
“Our current plans are to expand capacity within our 24/7 acute medical unit (AMU), which treats patients who have been admitted directly from the emergency department or GPs for rapid medical treatment but don’t need the care provided in our emergency department.
“By expanding the AMU, we will be able to make sure people are seen in the right place, and given the right sort of care, first time, spend less time waiting in hospital and that our emergency department team can focus more on treating people with the most urgent needs.”
Last December, the trust asked people to only come to A&E if it was really necessary as it struggled to cope with 400 people arriving every day.
The trust declared a major alert – triggered when hospitals are experiencing severe pressure – on 11 days between January 3 and 13.
The same month, Medway was only able to deal with 72% of patients within four hours – the lowest since the target of 95% was introduced in 2004.
Some 16 people waited more than 12 hours to be admitted due to a lack of beds.
Speaking about the flu warning, Ms Dwyer added: “Every year we prepare for seasonal flu, and we have a specific plan in place in case there are significant numbers of people that need hospital admission.
“We see more people during the winter months, and members of the public can make a real contribution to keeping the NHS running effectively by choosing the most appropriate care provider.
“Colds, ‘flu’, diarrhoea and vomiting are all common complaints over the winter, but can normally be effectively managed with rest, fluids and ‘over the counter’ medications – in most cases an emergency department won’t be able to provide more effective treatment than a high street pharmacist.
“If you aren’t certain where you should come to hospital, you can call 111 – for free - and speak to the NHS 111 team who will be able to advise you.”
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