08/01/2002

Virus closes hospital beds across province

Hospitals in Northern Ireland are struggling to deal with the effects of a common virus which has left people waiting on trollies for beds and caused a severe backlog in surgery.

The virus, which affects patients and staff, comes as hospitals throughout the province struggle to cope with an increased number of patients because of winter illnesses.

A gastroenteritis virus, which causes sickness, nausea and diarrhoea, is believed to be affecting patients and staff in three main hospitals in the province.

Patients and staff in Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn, the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, and the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald were affected by the virus over the Christmas and New Year period resulted in closure of beds and no new admittances.

However a spokesman for the Eastern Health and Social Services Board (EHSSB) said contrary to media reports, the number of beds closed was considerably fewer than reported.

According to the EHSSB, the Royal Victoria Hospital, which was hit hardest, reported virus infections in two of its fracture wards. As of Tuesday January 8, out of 60 beds, 21 beds remained empty and 39 beds were occupied by patients who had been admitted prior to the outbreak. In an effort to address to problem another unit, the spokesman added was utilised, offering 26 new beds.

The Lagan Valley Hospital reported that out of 35 beds, 10 were empty and 25 were occupied; in the Ulster Hospital 3 beds were empty.

A spokesman said: “There is no doubt about the difficulties this virus has caused. There is no doubt that this outbreak has given us very genuine and serious operational problems to address. However, all the hospitals concerned have worked collectively in order to solve the problem and we owe a debt of gratitude to Musgrave Park Hospital which made operating theatres available to treat fracture patients.”

SDLP Deputy Chair of the Health Committee Tommy Gallagher said although the Minister for Health Bairbre de Brún attributed the latest bed crisis to under funding, he could not ignore the fact that some health managers had “failed to properly learn lessons from past crises.”

He said: “The last time there were bed shortages we were told contingency plans were being put in place. It is obvious to everyone that some managers have failed to put those plans in place, or else the plans were inadequate.

“Adequate preparation might have prevented this latest crisis, and prevented unnecessary suffering for patients and unnecessary stress for hospital workers.”

Mr Gallagher added: “It is clear that there are overpaid Chief Executives presiding over a health service that is lurching from crisis to crisis. This issue cannot be ignored. It is time to bring full accountability to this maze of health trusts. I am calling for the Minister to do so urgently.” (AMcE)

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