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Staff praised after norovirus outbreak

The Northumbria hospital
The Northumbria hospital

There are lessons to be learned but the response by NHS staff to a norovirus outbreak was ‘exemplary’ as one Northumberland hospital was hit particularly hard this winter.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has welcomed a report by world-renowned expert Professor T H Pennington into outbreaks of flu and norovirus at its sites over the winter.

It affected the Northumbria emergency-care hospital in Cramlington as well as North Tyneside Hospital, but two wards at Wansbeck General Hospital ‘stand out’ with scores of patients falling ill.

Professor Pennington’s report concludes that wards four and five at the Ashington hospital were hit so hard because of a combination of pressure on beds, ward design, the lack of side rooms and staff shortages.

Nonetheless, the ‘vigorous and timely response’ was ‘impressive’, he says,  with his report – commissioned to review current practice and identify any lessons to be learned –praising the response by trust staff and management and making five recommendations.

Ellie Monkhouse, the trust’s executive director of nursing, said: “We fully welcome this report – in particular how it notes the fantastic response our staff made in difficult circumstances.

“The outbreaks this year were of an unprecedented level not seen before at Northumbria Healthcare and we are lucky that our new model of emergency care – with a specialist hospital and three general hospitals – allowed us to maintain patient flow even at the height of the outbreak.

“We are also investing in the three general hospitals so as to offer us even greater flexibility in future – for instance, if we need to isolate a patient.”

Alongside the staff, she also thanked patients, their relatives and the public at ‘a challenging time’, adding: “Without their support, it wouldn’t have been possible.”

At its board meeting on Monday, Northumbria Healthcare’s director of communications, Claire Riley, added that the trust’s response to the outbreak was to be pro-active and despite restricted visiting, ‘the response from the public was fantastic’.

Executive medical director Jeremy Rushmer said: “It was extraordinary because we had two strains of flu and two strains of norovirus and we managed to keep all of them separate.”

The five recommendations made by Professor Pennington were:

1. The provision of side rooms/bays with their own toilet facilities at Wansbeck General Hospital should be given high priority.

2. Consideration should be given to the development of site-specific outbreak control plans.

3. Policies regarding staff movement between norovirus affected and unaffected areas should be reviewed.

4. Systems for getting the earliest information about norovirus and influenza outbreaks in the community should be reviewed.

5. State-of- the-art molecular epidemiology methods when used to investigate norovirus outbreaks in hospitals have sometimes revealed unexpected sources of transmission. If stool samples have been retained, I recommend that Public Health England is asked to study them.

Ben O'Connell , Local Democracy Reporting Service