Norovirus surge forces hospitals to ban visitors

Woman with a cough
Woman with a cough - Basak Gurbuz Derman/Moment RF

Hospitals have started banning visitors after a surge in norovirus, the winter vomiting bug.

Last week, an average of 407 hospital beds were occupied by patients sick with norovirus every day.

Nationally cases are up 15 per cent on the week before and so far this winter there have been around double the number of people needing hospital care.

An influx of patients at hospitals around England has forced hundreds of beds to be closed as part of measures to prevent the virus spreading.

The Countess of Chester Hospital and Ellesmere Port Hospital, in Cheshire, have stopped visitors attending while norovirus “is active amongst a small but growing number of patients and while staff are at risk of catching it”.

Hull Royal Infirmary is “strongly discouraging” visitors to patients in affected areas unless they are “essential”, while Southampton General Hospital was forced to close a ward after a five-fold increase in patients within a week.

Other hospital bosses have warned of the “extremely high demand” that winter bugs are placing on emergency departments.

More people are in hospital with vomiting and diarrhoea at this time of year than any since before the Covid pandemic, up from 320 in 2022, 170 in 2021 and 32 in 2020. Although the 407 figure is lower than the number seen in 2019 (854), it is also more than 2018 (358).

Flu cases are also on the rise, with the number of people admitted to hospital up 53 per cent in a week to 234 on average each day, new NHS data has shown.

There were also 11 per cent more children in hospital with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) last week than at the same time last year.

Prof Julian Redhead, the NHS clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said: “This latest data will come as no surprise to those of us working on the front line, who are seeing the number of people coming to emergency departments and patients in hospital with viruses like flu, RSV, and norovirus creeping up.

“Demand on hospitals and staff remains high, and as we experience more spells of cold weather and people gathering indoors for festive events and end of year celebrations, we expect to see a continued increase in winter viruses spreading in the community and, in some cases, this will lead to hospital admissions.”

Dr Peter Williams, the medical director at the Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “As with all other hospitals across the country, we are experiencing extremely high demand for our emergency care services, and with the recent cold spell, there is significant pressure on A&E departments.

“Infection rates in the local community for illnesses such as diarrhoea and vomiting are on the rise, with winter respiratory viruses including flu and Covid infections also remaining prevalent.”

Richard Jennings, the group chief medical officer, St George’s, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals and Health Group, said: “Our three emergency departments are responding to very high demand at a time when our hospitals are very full.

“In particular we are seeing an increase in people coming to our emergency departments with norovirus and flu – both of which can make vulnerable people very poorly.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.