In a typical flu season, NHS staff take around 4.3 million sick days. The figure could be reduced by more than one quarter if all trusts matched the vaccination rates of the best, research from Imperial College London suggests. While 71 per cent of pensioners have been vaccinated, just 46 per cent of pregnant women and 47 per cent adults in clinical risk groups have had the jab, along with less than 50 per cent of children, the latest statistics show. The new figures show rates of GP consultations about flu have gone from 21 per 100,000 people to 37.3 per 100,000 people in one week – a rise of 78 per cent. The Royal College of GPs said the figures meant almost 22,000 patients had visited GPs with signs of flu in the first week of January – a rise of 9,499 patients since the last week of December. Separate statistics suggest at least 4.5 million people in England are suffering from flu.Victims of the flu outbreak include an 18-year old girl and a world war II spitfire pilot.Bethany Walker, from Applecross, died after taking ill at home – initially from flu symptoms which later developed into pneumonia. Miss Walker was airlifted to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness but died later last Friday. Her mother Heather Teale said she was “truly devastated” by the loss of her beautiful daughter.“I am broken, the bottom has fallen out of my world,” she wrote in a Facebook post.“You were the best daughter I could have ever wished for and I will always be the proudest mum in the world.”Owen Hardy, 95, from Chichester, died on January 4th, after contracting flu, his daughter said. During his time serving for the RAF in the war, the wing commander’s heroics saw him be awarded the top medal for valour – the Legion d’Honneur.Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “These figures back up what GPs across the country are telling us, and certainly what I’ve been seeing in my own surgery in Lichfield; things are incredibly busy, and demand is increasing – not just with flu but other common winter illnesses as well.She urged patients to try “self-care,” seeking advice from pharmacists or searching on NHS Choices before seeking a GP appointment. “This would help to control demand on GP services and give us the time to see those patients who need our care most urgently,” she said. “Rest is best with the flu, drink plenty of fluids and take either paracetamol or ibuprofen to help minimise symptoms during recovery,” she advised. Professor Simon de Lusignan, Medical Director for the RCGP Research Surveillance Centre, said: “We can certainly say that last week was for flu in England took off, crossing the medium threshold. However, given how unpredictable flu can be, it is impossible to speculate how this will progress moving forward – rates may increase further, they may level out or even decline.” The new figures show 758 confirmed influenza cases hospitalised last week – of which 157 were the A(H3N2) strain dubbed “Aussie flu” after it fuelled the country’s worst flu season for two decades. The calls follow a study by Imperial College London, which found every 10 per cent increase in NHS vaccination rates was linked with a 10 per cent fall in sickness absence. Flu levels are soaring with one in five cases in hospital suffering from the deadly strain dubbed “Aussie flu”, official figures show.The statistics from Public Health England (PHE) show that across the country, rates of flu have close to doubled in one week, with a 51 per cent rise in cases hospitalised.The reports show almost 2,000 patients hospitalised with confirmed flu so far this season – with more than a fifth infected with the deadly strain A(H3N2) – dubbed “Aussie flu” after it fuelled the country’s worst flu season for two decades.The total death toll is now 85, up from 48 in previous reports this season.Health officials have urged NHS staff to take up flu vaccinations, with the country’s chief medical officer today backing calls to make it mandatory for frontline staff to have the jabs. Prof Dame Sally Davies pleaded with doctors and nurses to have the jab for the sake of their patients, with less than one third of healthcare staff vaccinated in some hospitals.“Healthcare workers owe a duty to protect their patients – go and get vaccinated,” she said.Pensioners, adults with chronic health problems like diabetes and asthma, pregnant women and children under the age of nine are all eligible for free NHS vaccination. Internationally, mandatory vaccination of healthcare staff against flu remains rare, though it was introduced by Virginia Mason Institute, a global safety pioneer, more than a decade ago. France, which is currently battling a flu epidemic, is just about to introduce compulsory vaccination for all children against 11 diseases, including flu. Official figures from Public Health England (PHE) show 58 trusts where less than half of staff had been vaccinated by the end of November.Among acute hospital trusts, the lowest figure of 33.7 per cent was at Kings College NHS foundation trust in London.Humber NHS foundation trust, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS foundation trust, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust and the Royal Wolverhampton NHS trust all had less than 45 per cent of staff vaccinated, the statistics show. Overall, the rate of hospitalised cases has risen by 51 per cent, the statistics show. The figures, which cover the week ending on 7 January, show 7.38 cases per 100,000 population, compared with rates of 4.89 per 100,000 the previous week.So far this winter, there have been a total of 1,938 hospitalised confirmed influenza admissions, including 432 cases of A(H3N2) the figures show. Today Dame Sally said she would back making the flu jab compulsory for NHS staff, citing research which shows that a 10 per cent increase in vaccination uptake cuts staff sickness rates by the same amount. In an open letter to staff across the country, senior figures within NHS England, Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health urged staff to have the jab.Provisional data showed 59.3 per cent of frontline healthcare workers were vaccinated by the end of November, up from 55.6 per cent the previous year.But while that figure was more than 80 per cent in some hospital trusts, it dropped to less than one third in others, figures show. Stop the spread of flu germs. Use a tissue, bin used tissues and wash your hands thoroughly. Catch it. Bin it. Kill it. More info here: https://t.co/67SMIc3W0N pic.twitter.com/oiJUoYgjvb— NHS Choices (@NHSChoices) January 11, 2018 Professor Paul Cosford, PHE medical director said: “Our data shows that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospitals with the flu.”We are currently seeing a mix of flu types, including the A(H3N2) strain that circulated last winter in the UK and then in Australia. All vaccines offer cover against this strain of flu and so we urge people to take up the offer of the vaccine.”Experts say around one quarter of NHS staff will contract flu during a typical season. Of those, between one third and half will avoid major symptoms, meaning they are likely to remain in work, spreading infections. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Across the whole of the NHS, the average uptake rate was less than 60 per cent.A spokesman for King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “These figures only reflect vaccination figures to the end of November 2017.”Since then, we have seen an increase in the number of vaccinations among frontline staff across the Trust and this will be reflected in the new figures, which are due to be published in mid-January. ” “Flu-related staff sickness absence can significantly affect the ability to deliver services safely and effectively,” the letter warns. Health officials today launched a public awareness campaign on press and radio urging the public to “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it”.Flu is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and hard surfaces for up to 24 hours.It is very infectious, especially within the first five days, so the public are being encouraged to “Catch” any sneezes in a tissue, “Bin” any tissues immediately and “Kill” the virus by washing their hands with soap and warm water. Earlier this week, health officials called for a “serious debate” about introducing mandatory flu jabs for NHS staff, amid a deepening winter crisis.Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, said action was needed to tackle “massive variation” between hospitals, with as few as one third of medical workers vaccinated at some hospital trusts.Experts say around one quarter of NHS staff will contract flu during a typical season. Of those, between one third and half will avoid major symptoms, meaning they are likely to remain in work, spreading infections. Asked if the vaccination should be made compulsory for staff, Dame Sally said: “I welcome anything that increases vaccination rates of healthcare staff, because we have this duty of care to protect our patients.”If that raises rates, then I’m happy with it.”She added that those in the healthcare sector owe a duty to protect their patients, and having the flu vaccination is one of the ways they can do so.The letter warns: “Although flu can produce severe symptoms which prevent the individual from working as normal, the range of illness is very broad with perhaps 30 per cent of infections being asymptomatic and a similar proportion with only mild respiratory symptoms.”Such individuals, with mild or no symptoms, can still pass on the virus to vulnerable people they come into contact with. This is why vaccination of healthcare workers is a critical part of our flu prevention strategy and helps to ensure the well-being of our most vulnerable patients.