AROUND 600 hospital beds were closed every day last week due to an outbreak of norovirus, health bosses have warned.
New NHS figures show a surge in cases of the winter vomiting bug is putting severe strain on its services.
The health service said just five per cent of hospital beds were available for new patients last week due to the outbreak.
It aims to keep the figure below 92 per cent, but medics say even that is too high for hospitals to operate safely, especially during the winter months.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Operational pressure on NHS services and their staff have improved somewhat in recent days.
“But with colder weather predicted and 600 beds lost last week as a result of winter vomiting bugs, the public can help the NHS by taking steps to stay well.”
Health bosses advised making use of community pharmacists “to get any winter illness seen to before it gets worse.”
The latest stats show that on average 627 hospital beds were closed due to norovirus in England from the week ending January 19.
Running out of space
It comes as 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 last week.
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.
It comes as part of Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridgeshire was put on lockdown after a norovirus outbreak yesterday.
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.
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“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”.