Covid: Hospitals ban patient visits to stem rising infections amid Omicron variant spread

Credit: PA

More than a dozen hospitals across the country have suspended visits in order to protect patients and staff amid soaring Covid infections.

Patients in London, Yorkshire and Essex are among those who will no longer be able to receive visitors as growing numbers of people are bringing cases onto wards.

Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust in London, which oversees University Hospital Lewisham and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, said the temporary visitor ban had been an "extremely difficult" decision to make.

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The restrictions, which came into effect from 9am on Wednesday, allow for certain exemptions, including for end-of-life care, women giving birth and children being visited by their parents.

The trust said the policy will be kept under close review and eased as soon as it is safe to do so.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust, which manages the five NHS adult hospitals across the city, said transmission on some of its sites was linked to people visiting patients.

Chief nurse Chris Morley said: “Sadly the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is now spreading rapidly in the local community, and whilst we have been trying to maintain some visiting because we realise how important this is to patients and relatives, unfortunately the increase in cases does now pose a greater risk of our patients acquiring the virus.”

The comments come as pressure mounts on the health service with the UK surpassing its record number of daily reported coronavirus cases for a fourth day in a row on Friday.

A further 189,846 confirmed on New Year's Eve, which follows two consecutive days when the number of new cases was above 180,000.

Office for National Statistics data showed an estimated 2.3 million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending December 23, up from 1.4 million in the week to December 16.

NHS England has also revealed there were 2,370 hospital admissions with Covid in England on 29 December, the highest daily total since January 29.

Amid this backdrop of high infection, an increasing number of hospitals are suspending visits due to the rising prevalence of Covid-19 in local communities.

University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust had been considering permitting one visitor per patient for an hour to support those stuck on wards during the festive period.

A cubicle in the Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry. Credit: PA

But the trust, which runs University Hospital Coventry, and the Hospital of St Cross, Rugby, called off the proposals on Thursday due to increased Covid cases.

Similar restrictions have been imposed at all hospitals run by East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust.

New Year’s Eve is the last day before all general ward visiting is suspended across Colchester and Ipswich hospitals and community units managed by the trust.

Elsewhere, hospitals in Lancaster, Kendal and Barrow also closed their doors to most visitors on Friday in a decision medics described as “extremely sad”.

Rotherham Hospital, meanwhile, has banned visits while the surrounding area contends with the highest community infection rate in South Yorkshire.

Victoria Hazeldine, deputy chief nurse at the trust, said: “The welfare of our patients, their families and our staff is our top priority.”

From New Year's Day, the West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust will only allow visitors to patients in the last days of life, and in other limited circumstances.

The trust said the situation will be monitored carefully and that it will impact Watford General, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead hospitals.

Northampton General Hospital has also suspended visits to it sites from Friday to reduce the risk of the virus being introduced to the hospital.

In a similar step, Shropshire's orthopaedic hospital has severely restricted all visiting until further notice due to rising coronavirus infection rates in the community.

The moves follow warnings from senior NHS leaders about staff shortages across the health service as workers are forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with the virus.

NHS England data shows that 24,632 staff at NHS hospital trusts were ill with coronavirus or having to self-isolate on Boxing Day, up 31% from 18,829 a week earlier and nearly double the 12,508 at the start of the month.

As surging cases increase the strain on the health service, the government has been told it must be ready to apply restrictions "at pace" amid fears the NHS could be overwhelmed by the rapid spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant.

There are now 246,780 confirmed Omicron cases across the UK, after an additional 17,114 cases were reported on Friday, the UK Health Security Agency confirmed.

In response to the pressures, the health service is setting up "surge hubs" at hospitals across England to cope with rising patient numbers.