Hospital nurses have been affected by the norovirus outbreak, which began a couple of weeks earlier than normal in many places this year thanks to cold weather and an outbreak of norovirus.
Describing the pressures on services, Sian Thomas, director of NHS Employers, told Nursing Times: ‘We have had to close wards, we have had to close beds and we have had staff sickness. We have been very fortunate to have had a series of winters that have not been cold.
‘Already there has been cold weather and snow in the north, and we have the potential for a very challenging couple of months. Things like A&E targets are more difficult to deliver because of winter pressures.’
She added: ‘A lot of it will depend on the winter. We have had a very cold couple of weekends and, if that were to go on through the Christmas period, that will be a challenge for the NHS.
‘It is going to be about getting through the next 3–4 weeks.’
The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University Hospitals of North Staffordshire NHS Trust were among those affected.
Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge has had 44 patients test positive for norovirus and 31 staff off sick as a result.
At the peak of the outbreak last week, 13 wards at the hospital were closed.
However, as of last week, only three wards remained closed.
Angela Thompson, deputy chief nurse at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, said:
‘The last time we had an outbreak of norovirus as bad as this was about 10 years ago.
‘It has had a huge impact on the organisation. It has had an impact on elective surgery and the four-hour emergency department wait target,’ she added.
Staff working on affected wards are confined to those wards while they are on duty and, if patients are transferred, nurses have to gown up and wear protective clothing, she said.
‘The thing to do is restrict visitors, close wards and restrict staff movement if there is a suspicion of norovirus,’ she said. ‘Handwashing is key and it is important to remember that alcohol gels don’t work against the virus.’