Spike in norovirus cases sees soaring number of hospital beds closed

A spike in cases of norovirus led to more than 800 hospital beds being closed per day in England last week, up from a daily average of 640 the previous week


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A spike in cases of norovirus led to more than 800 hospital beds being closed per day in England last week.

NHS data show a 28% rise in the number of bed closures due to norovirus, diarrhoea and vomiting to 817 beds per day last week, up from a daily average of 640 the previous week. Hospitals close beds to prevent infection spreading or because of lack of staff.

Flu levels also remain high, with Public Health England (PHE) reporting 19 confirmed flu-related deaths in the UK last week, taking the total so far this winter to 241.

Waiting to be seen

Meanwhile, weekly figures released by NHS England show 10,800 patients had to wait more than 30 minutes to be seen after arriving at emergency departments by ambulance, with more than 2,200 of them having to wait more than an hour.

There were 30 instances where ambulances had to divert to other emergency units, compared with 36 the previous week.

They also show a rise in the number of calls to NHS 111, with 335,900 calls in the week ending 11 February, which was 3.6% more than in the previous week and 18.3% up on the 284,000 calls in the same week last year.

Bed occupancy levels were at 95%, which is 10% above what is regarded as a safe level.

Winter challenge

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said that with fewer beds available it is harder for hospitals to admit new patients, and too many were left waiting on trolleys and in corridors.

‘That same shortage of beds means thousands of ambulances each week – often carrying older and vulnerable people – are left queueing at the door of A&E departments for an hour or more,’ she said.

‘Norovirus presents a big challenge to nursing staff in winter and everybody can play a part in reducing it. Patients should inform staff when they are admitted to hospital if they, or those they live with, are showing symptoms. Friends and family should not visit people in hospital if they know they are infected themselves.’

System under stress

Society for Acute Medicine president Nick Scriven said the system remains under great stress as the NHS enters a seventh week of sustained acute medical pressure.

‘The influenza surge may have peaked but is still a highly significant problem, and on top of that the last seven days have seen the first real continuous period of cold weather since Christmas,’ he said.

‘This has caused a re-escalation in pressure, which will not be seen in figures until this time next week.’

British Medical Association council chair Chaand Nagpaul said bed occupancy levels above 85% are considered to be unsafe, and while pressures were easing the crisis was far from over.

He added: ‘The reality is that we now have a consistently overstretched health service, running without the capacity to meet demand all year round.’

Fall in delayed transfers

PHE said seasonal flu continues to circulate across the UK but there has been a 21% reduction in the GP consultation rate for flu-like illnesses, a 9% reduction in the flu hospitalisation rate and a 7% reduction in the flu intensive care admission rate.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Despite a spike in norovirus cases, the latest monthly figures show that social care-related delayed transfers of care are at their lowest in two years.’

Such NHS-related delays were at their lowest in four years, successfully freeing up 2,000 beds across the NHS for patients needing admission, the spokesperson said.

Figures released last week showed that just 85.3% of patients were seen at emergency departments within the target waiting time of four hours in January, the second-worst month on record.

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