NHS hospitals are fuller than they have been all winter amid a surge in cases of norovirus, new figures reveal.
Public Health England confirmed that just 4.9 per cent of hospital beds were free for new patients last week, due to the spread of the winter vomiting bug.
And more than 5,500 hospital beds were closed because of norovirus – 45 per cent higher than the week before.
Shocking statistics released this morning showed 95.1 per cent of NHS inpatient beds were full in English hospitals last week.
And it was the second busiest week of the past three years – with only the first week of February in 2019 recording more full beds (95.2 per cent).
The NHS aims to keep the figure below 92 per cent, but medics say even that is too high for hospitals to operate safely, especially during the winter months.
Norovirus cases in England for the last week of December and first week of January were 31 per cent higher than average.
Some 422 people were diagnosed and 11 hospital wards closed because of the winter vomiting bug.
And the total number of infections since recording began in June is 26 per cent higher than usual.
A total of 5,630 hospital beds had to be closed last week because of norovirus, up from 3,882 a week earlier and just 3,135 the week before that.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Flu and norovirus continue to put additional pressure on NHS services, so it remains important that the public help staff by getting their flu jab and using the NHS 111 phone and online service for advice if they come down with a vomiting bug.
“While the NHS has more beds open this winter than last, the continued increase in people’s need for care underlines the need for more beds and staff across hospital and community services.”
While the proportion of beds free was low for England overall (4.9 per cent of the total), many hospitals had even fewer than that.
Five ways to beat norovirus
- Stay at home if you are experiencing norovirus symptoms. Do not return to work or send children to school until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared. Also avoid visiting elderly or poorly relatives, particularly if they are in hospital.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water. Alcohol hand gels don’t kill norovirus.
- When an infected person vomits, the droplets contaminate the surrounding surfaces. A bleach-based household cleaner or a combination of bleach and hot water should be used to disinfect potentially contaminated household surfaces and commonly used objects such as toilets, taps, telephones, door handles and kitchen surfaces.
- If you are ill, avoid cooking and helping prepare meals for others until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped, as norovirus can be spread through food contaminated by the virus when food is handled by symptomatic people/infected individuals contaminated food.
- Wash any contaminated clothing or bedding using detergent and at 60°C, and if possible wear disposable gloves to handle contaminated items.
A total of 79 out of 132 hospital trusts included in the data were more than 95.1 per cent full and 31 were more than 98 per cent full last week.
The National Infection Service is now urging people to practice good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of norovirus.
Nick Phin, National Infection Service Deputy Director, PHE said: “One of the best ways to protect against norovirus infection is by practicing good hand hygiene.
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“This includes thorough hand washing with soap and warm water after using the toilet and before eating or preparing foods.
“Most people will make a full recovery within one to two days but it is important to drink plenty of fluids during that time to prevent dehydration especially in the very young, elderly or those with weakened immunity.
“We advise people not to visit GP surgeries and hospitals with symptoms, however if they are concerned they should contact NHS 111 or talk to their GP by phone.”
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