It's official! New data shows that August was the worst month on record for the flu with more than 35,000 cases and 60,000 cases so far this year.
So far this year, NSW Health has recorded almost 60,000 cases – an all-time high. This compares to 35, 538 in the entire year for 2016.
And Sydney is the epicentre of the outbreak with more than 42,000 cases.
The August statistics more than double the worst month prior which was July this year with 16,686. The figures for the worst months before that include August, 2016, with 13,602 cases and August, 2015, with 12,901.
NSW Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord said the entire health and hospital system were under enormous pressure – especially the "already over-stretched emergency departments".
The flu season is smashing NSW emergency departments and it is only going to get worse
Mr Secord said NSW hospitals were at breaking point.
He has called on the State and Federal Governments to consider expanding their free flu vaccinations programs.
Earlier this month, the NSW Health warned reported cases of influenza were yet to peak and urged people to take precautions to reduce their risk of getting or spreading the flu.
It confirmed influenza multiple strains of the flu virus were circulating including high levels of influenza A and B.
“Every year we know the flu season is coming and again, the State Government has been caught off guard. They have dropped the ball on prevention," Mr Secord said.
“The flu season is smashing NSW emergency departments and it is only going to get worse," he said.
Meanwhile, there are claims a shortage of nurses at Blacktown Hospital has meant that less qualified nurses are having to work extremely long hours, across multiple wards as the flu season intensifies.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) has called on the Western Sydney Local Health District to intervene in the hospital’s working conditions.
The General Secretary of the NSWNMA Brett Holmes said the hospital was short-changing patient care by providing less nurses per day than required under the State’s nursing award.
“Many of the nurses are exhausted and demoralised from inadequate support staff being rostered, they are routinely missing out on their full meal breaks and many are working unpaid overtime just to ensure the duties of their shift are completed safely,” Mr Holmes said.
Operations manager of Blacktown and Mount Druitt Hospital Peter Rophail said illnesses during the flu season had been well above average, however, nurses were continuously working hard.
"Our clinical staff have done a fantastic job caring for the community, in the grip of a prolonged and intense flu season and gastro outbreak, which has affected both staff and patients".
Mr Rophail said a meeting would be held with the NSWNMA this week to discuss their concerns.
Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases NSW Health, said people with flu symptoms should take extra care to avoid spreading their infection to family and friends who may be at greater risk of a severe influenza infection.
“Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, disposing of used tissues and washing hands thoroughly and often are simple precautions people can take from spreading flu,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“We are seeing high levels of both influenza A and B strains circulating in the community, which places vulnerable people at high risk of catching the influenza and developing severe complications.