A SICKNESS bug forced managers to quarantine hospital beds.

Figures from NHS England show that 21 ward beds could not be used at Great Western Hospital last week after an outbreak of Norovirus, known as the winter vomiting bug.

GWH managers have issued a fresh plea to those suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea not to visit relatives in hospital, in an attempt to keep the bug away from the wards.

'Don't visit relatives in hospital if you're sick'

Tania Currie, deputy chief nurse, said: “Norovirus is a highly contagious stomach bug which usually occurs in places where there are lots of people, such as hospitals, schools and residential care homes.

“There aren’t currently any cases at the Great Western Hospital, however we have been affected recently.

“To help protect our patients and staff, please do not visit if you have experienced vomiting or diarrhoea within the last 48 hours, or have been in contact with someone suffering from these symptoms, unless you have an urgent or emergency medical need.

“All visitors should wash their hands thoroughly before arrival and make use of the hand gel available outside every ward.

“If you are unwell and have an appointment at the hospital, please contact the appropriate department and ask for their advice.

“You can get free advice over the phone by phoning NHS 111, and if you need to see a healthcare professional, they will direct you to a local healthcare service.

“We do all we can to prevent the spread of norovirus, which includes not bringing new patients to an affected area, meaning we sometimes have unoccupied beds. We had an average of three empty beds on any given day during a recent nine day outbreak.”

Beds full and ambulances waiting

After a quiet Christmas compared to 2017, ward staff at GWH have faced a busy start to the new year.

In the first two weeks of 2018, the average bed occupancy rate at the Marlborough Road hospital stood at 95 per cent. Health experts have said 85 per cent is a safe occupancy rate.

Last week, 542 ambulances arrived at the Swindon A&E. 19 patients were left waiting between 30 minutes and an hour to be booked in by emergency ward staff compared to seven in the Christmas week. The hospital logged its third patient of the winter waiting with paramedics for more than an hour outside A&E.

National picture

Nationally, the number of ambulances kept waiting outside A&Es hit its highest level of the winter last week.

Hospitals in England were forced to divert ambulances away from their emergency departments 38 times, more than double the previous week’s number.

Dame Donna Kinnair of the Royal College of Nursing said: “These figures show we’re right back to where we started after a brief lull over Christmas.

“Hospitals are only just keeping their heads above water, and we have not yet faced a serious cold snap or outbreak of flu that could send the system into meltdown.

“The public is right to wonder if the NHS has got through this winter on good fortune.

“The only way to insulate the health service from seasonal demands is to address once and for all the chronic workforce crisis which leaves the NHS with almost 41,000 nursing vacancies.”

An NHS spokesman said: “NHS staff continue to pull out all the stops with flu and norovirus cases continuing to rise as expected in January."

“Thanks to closer working between hospitals, local health groups and councils, fewer people are spending long periods in hospital compared with this time last year.”