Visitor restrictions are to come into force at hospitals across Northumberland and North Tyneside tomorrow.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has today announced that it is introducing partial visitor restrictions across all of its sites as of Friday. The move is in response to rising rates of norovirus in the area – including in schools and care homes.
It is hoped that by acting before the virus reaches hospitals in critical numbers a total ban on visitors – as happened for a period last winter – can be avoided and the safety of the trust’s patients protected.
"This is a decision we have taken after very careful consideration and is based on hard lessons learned from last year," said the trust’s interim executive director of nursing and midwifery Marion Dickson. "Absolutely no one wants to stop people seeing their loved ones when they are in hospital; we know, often first-hand, how important it is.
"However, norovirus is more than just unpleasant. To many it can be harmful, to the most vulnerable it can be deadly – and the safety of our patients is our overriding priority. It spreads from person to person incredibly easily – often before the carrier starts to show symptoms.
"With infection rates starting to rise in the wider community, we are taking this step to try an avoid a repeat of last year where – in part due to us waiting too long – we had to fully close visiting to a number of wards. This is not good for patients or for our staff and we want to do all we can to minimise the risk of a reoccurrence; although we know we cannot eliminate it.
"This way we preserve the wellbeing of our patients but also keep access open to people wishing to see their loved ones."
The following restrictions will be in force from 9am tomorrow (Friday, December 14) until further notice:
No (visiting) children under 12 at any time;
Visiting is restricted on all inpatient wards (at all sites) to between 2pm-3pm and 6.30pm-7.30pm;
In our birthing centre/maternity units – outside of the hours above – visiting is restricted to birthing partners only;
In paediatrics – outside of the hours above – visiting is restricted parents/ legal guardian only;
Only one visitor per patient is permitted in our emergency department or ambulatory care at any time;
On all wards no more than two visitors per patient on the ward at any time.
If you wish to visit a patient in receipt of palliative/end-of-life care or who is on one of our mental-health wards, you may continue to visit as normal but are urged to contact the ward before you travel.
Given the risk of spreading infection and the increased pressure on parking facilities which may occur due to shortened visiting hours it is asked that – even within these hours – only essential visits be made.
The restrictions affect the following sites/ hospitals: Alnwick Infirmary; Berwick Infirmary; Blyth Community Hospital; Haltwhistle War Memorial Hospital; Hexham General Hospital; North Tyneside General Hospital; Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, Cramlington; The Whalton Unit, Morpeth; Wansbeck General Hospital, Ashington.
The trust is also asking for the public’s help to minimise the spread of winter illnesses and to ease the burden on NHS services.
"Norovirus and flu are nasty and easily spread but – with a few simple steps – the risks can be significantly reduced," said Dr David Tate, director of infection prevention and control and consultant microbiologist at Northumbria Healthcare.
"By washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water and by getting your flu jab, you help yourself and those around you. It’s not widely appreciated that up to 50 per cent of people with flu carry it with no symptoms but can still infect others. Equally, norovirus often has a 12 to 48-hour incubation period before symptoms commence, but can still be spread to other people during this time.
"With these steps, you not only make it safer for you and your loved ones but really help your local NHS."