AN outbreak of norovirus has forced hospital staff to close 800 beds every day in the last week.
The latest NHS figures show that cases of the winter vomiting bug are continuing to surge and put pressure on NHS services.
Health bosses shut down 200 more hospital beds every day last week compared with the week before.
With the weather set to turn colder over the next week, officials fear hospitals could be under more strain.
An NHS spokesperson said: “NHS services continue to experience pressures, with norovirus putting nearly 800 hospital beds out of use each day.
“But despite that there were fewer ambulance diverts and handover delays and more beds available than the same week last year.
“With cold weather expected over the next week the public can help us to help them by keeping warm and making greater use of NHS 111.
They also advised making use of community pharmacists “to get any winter illness seen to before it gets worse.”
The latest stats show that on average 773 hospital beds were closed due to norovirus in England from the week ending January 26.
Running out of space
Kettering General Hospital is among those forced to close wards due to an outbreak of both norovirus and flu this winter.
Meanwhile, patients at Ashford and St Peter’s hospitals in Surrey were given restricted visiting times to due to fears the bug would spread.
It comes after bosses at Royal Cornwall Hospital was forced to book hotel rooms for patients as space on the wards began running out.
Details of the “extraordinary action” were revealed in a briefing note provided to Cornwall councillors by the hospital trust’s chief exec Kate Shields earlier this month.
Staff were ordered to reserve ten rooms at local hotels after the hospital declared an OPEL 4 status – previously known as “black alert” – on January 5.
Ms Shields said the last few weeks had been ‘extremely challenging’ across the country and in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
Five ways to limit the spread of norovirus
- Stay at home if you are experiencing norovirus symptoms. Do not return to work or send children to school until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared. Also avoid visiting elderly or poorly relatives, particularly if they are in hospital.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water. Alcohol hand gels don’t kill norovirus.
- Use a bleach-based household cleaner or a combination of bleach and hot water to disinfect household surfaces and commonly used objects such as toilets, taps, telephones, door handles and kitchen surfaces.
- If you are ill, avoid cooking and helping prepare meals for others.
- Wash any contaminated clothing or bedding using detergent and at 60°C, and if possible wear disposable gloves to handle contaminated items.
In the note, she stated: “We have had to take extraordinary actions to avoid another ‘critical incident’ and to try to maintain safe standards of care.”
Included in the examples was the following “Ten hotel rooms were booked provisionally until 7th January to facilitate social discharges or those with low support needs – two people were supported to leave hospital via that route.”
Other actions included encouraging people to use local services such as Minor Injury Units and GP services to avoid going to the hospital, known as Treliske.
Extra “escalation beds” were also opened at smaller community hospitals in Helston, Liskeard and Stratton.
A number of schools have also been closed due to the nasty winter bug over the last few months.
Norovirus is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK.
It’s also called the winter vomiting bug because it’s more common in winter, although it can be caught at any time of the year.
The main symptoms are typically suddenly feeling sick, projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea.
How to look after yourself if you have norovirus
Most people will make a full recovery within one to two days, but it is important to drink plenty of fluids during that time to prevent dehydration especially in the very young, elderly or those with weakened immunity.
- Stay at home and get plenty of rest
- Drink lots of fluids, such as water or squash – take small sips if you feel sick
- Carry on breast or bottle feeding your baby – if they’re being sick, try giving small feeds more often than usual
- Give babies on formula or solid foods small sips of water between feeds
- Eat when you feel able to – you don’t need to eat or avoid any specific foods
- Take paracetamol if you’re in discomfort – check the leaflet before giving it to your child
- Go back to work, or send your children back to school, until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared
- Have fruit juice or fizzy drinks – they can make diarrhoea worse
- Make baby formula weaker – use it at its usual strength
- Give children under 12 medicine to stop diarrhoea
- Give aspirin to children under 16
Health bosses are stressing the importance of hand-washing and practising good hygiene to stop it from spreading.
Nick Phin, National Infection Service Deputy Director at Public Health England, added: “Cases of norovirus are at higher levels than we would expect to see at this time of year, although this is not unprecedented.
“Practising good hygiene is one of the best ways to protect against norovirus.
“This includes thorough hand washing with soap and warm water after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food.
“We advise people not to visit GP surgeries and hospitals with symptoms.
“However, if they are concerned they should contact NHS 111 or talk to their GP by phone.”
Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine recently estimated that the illness is responsible for 200,000 deaths every year worldwide.
Experts say this is because it is “notorious for spreading rapidly through densely populated spaces”.