No children aged under 12 are being allowed to visit a hospital trust at any time at present, in order to try and limit the spread of norovirus in the region.
The move is among a series of visitor restrictions currently in force across Northumberland and North Tyneside, which are designed to prevent the need for a complete ban on visitors, as occurred in 2017.
“With rates starting to rise in the wider community we are taking this step to try an avoid a repeat of last year”
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust announced that the partial restrictions to visiting would be in force at all its sites from 9am on Friday 14 December until further notice.
General visiting is being restricted on all inpatient wards at all the trust’s sites to between 2pm and 3pm, and 6.30pm and 7.30pm.
In its birthing centre and maternity units, visiting outside of the two inpatient slots is now restricted to birthing partners only and in paediatrics is restricted to parents and legal guardians only.
Meanwhile, only one visitor per patient is permitted in emergency departments or ambulatory care at any time, and on all wards no more than two visitors per patient is allowed at any time.
Northumbria Healthcare said that the move was 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 patients protected, it said.
“Absolutely no one wants to stop people seeing their loved ones when they are in hospital”
Those wanting to visit a patient in receipt of palliative or end of life care, or who is on a mental health ward may continue to visit as normal but are urged to contact the ward before they travel.
Marion Dickson, the trust’s interim executive director of nursing and midwifery, said: “This is a decision we have taken after very careful consideration and is based on hard lessons learned from last year.”
She said: “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,” said Ms Dickson.
“With 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,” she said.
“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,” she noted.
She added: “This way we preserve the wellbeing of our patients but also keep access open to people wishing to see their loved ones.”
The rules affect the trust’s nine sites, including five acutes – Alnwick Infirmary, Berwick Infirmary, Hexham General Hospital, North Tyneside General Hospital and Wansbeck General Hospital.
Also affected are Blyth Community Hospital, Haltwhistle War Memorial Hospital, the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital and the Whalton Unit.