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Vomit bug in a third of hospitals as some even ban staff from drinking tea to stop it spreading
Almost 1,700 patients have been hit by norovirus – three times as many as this time last yearIn South Tyneside District Hospital nearly one quarter of beds occupied by patients with bugDepartment of Health say NHS is prepared for winter health problems
23:08 GMT, 29 November 2012
Increase: Almost 1,700 people have been struck down by norovirus – three times as many as this time last year
More than a third of hospitals have been hit by the winter vomiting bug, figures show.
Almost 1,700 patients have been struck down by norovirus, three times as many as this time last year.
Some hospitals have resorted to banning doctors and nurses from drinking tea on the wards to prevent its spread.
And in the worst-hit trust, South Tyneside, nearly a quarter of all beds appear to be occupied by patients who have the bug.
The virus – which peaks in the winter months – seems to have arrived far earlier than usual and experts say the NHS has been caught unawares.
Earlier this week it also emerged that a number of frontline staff have been infected, putting extra pressure on overstretched wards.
According to the latest figures from the Department of Health, a total of 1,695 hospital patients have been struck down. This is three times as many as this time last year when 593 patients had the bug.
And 63 out of 158 NHS hospital trusts are affected, with many banning visitors. In South Tyneside NHS trust, a total of 115 patients have norovirus meaning nearly a quarter of the hospital’s 448 beds are apparently occupied by someone with the illness.
Other badly-hit trusts include City Hospitals in Sunderland (108 cases) and Gateshead Foundation trust (90).
Managers at Barking, Havering and Redbridge Trust in Essex have banned staff from having tea and coffee or biscuits on the wards.
Dr Ian Hosein, the trust’s director of infection prevention, said: ‘It looks like the kick-off has come earlier and it may have taken people slightly unawares.
'What may be happening now is that it kicked in so quickly that people haven’t been ready for it.
'Right now the lines are holding, but it is inevitable that hospitals are going to get it. What matters is how quickly they respond.’
Banned: Tea and coffee making has been banned on some wards in several NHS trusts
The virus is extremely contagious and spreads when it finds its way on to cutlery and food – or people’s hands – and is ingested. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, a headache and a temperature.
It can be dangerous in the old or in patients with serious underlying conditions and is thought to cause about 80 deaths a year.
Earlier this week several NHS trusts including Sheffield Teaching and Warwick confirmed that a number of frontline staff were off with the virus.
There is no treatment, but patients are advised to drink plenty of water.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘The NHS is well prepared for the increase in winter related health problems which are typical at this time of year.
‘Preparations are made across the NHS annually and these are now in place in every area of England.’