16/10/2017 17:42 BST

NHS Braced To Deal With High Flu Rates This Winter, MPs Told

Number of cases in Australia and New Zealand reveal it could be a bad year.

The NHS is braced to deal with high numbers of flu cases this winter, MPs were told today.

Sir Chris Wormald, permanent private secretary to the Department of Health, said early indications based on prevalence of the virus in Australia and New Zealand showed rates could be high in the coming season.

But the senior civil servant told members of Parliament’s public accounts committee that he felt the NHS was “better prepared” to deal with a challenging winter than in previous years.

He said investment had been ploughed into creating extra space in accident and emergency departments across scores of hospitals and that the extra beds would be available in time for the coldest months. 

NHS bosses have said they are “more concerned than ever before” about a potential looming “winter crisis”, with senior managers writing to all 1.4 million staff to say they must have the winter flu jab as soon as possible to reduce the risk of them infecting vulnerable patients.

Those who decline the jab will have to explain why to the individual trusts that employ them.

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The committee was also told more than 12,000 additional cases of loss of sensitive medical documents had been uncovered by the NHS.

It follows a damning National Audit Office report which found more than 1,700 patients could have suffered harm after 700,000 documents, sent between GPs and hospitals, did not reach their recipients because they had been left in a warehouse by NHS Shared Business Services (SBS) - a company co-owned by the Department of Health and private firm Sopra Steria.

John Neilson, chief executive of SBS - which is no longer providing the service - said “mistakes had clearly been made” and apologised to all those who were affected.

The error, which happened between 2011 and 2016, related to treatment plans, blood and urine test results and cancer diagnoses.

The files did not reach their intended recipients due to administration problems and they were mistakenly stored in a warehouse rather than redirected. 

NHS England boss Simon Stevens said the loss of an additional 12,000 documents was uncovered during the subsequent investigation and that the health service was working with GPs to ensure no patients had suffered harm as a result.