HEALTH chiefs say they cannot cope with another winter like this one after a virulent vomiting bug caused havoc in hospital wards.

The full impact of the winter diarrhoea and vomiting bug norovirus on the Alexandra Hospital, as well as the Worcester Royal and Kidderminster Hospital, was laid bare at a meeting of NHS chiefs at Southcrest Manor Hotel in Redditch last week.

Harry Turner, chairman of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “It’s clear we can’t go through this again next winter.”

At the height of the outbreak in November, which saw three wards closed at the Alex, 166 beds were closed across the trust’s hospitals.

Of these 166 beds, 40 were empty because the highly infectious bug meant no new patients could be transferred to any wards where patients had the symptoms.

Patients on these wards also could not be sent home or into nursing homes or community hospitals such as the Princess of Wales in Bromsgrove because of the risk of spreading the infection.

This created ‘frozen’ wards preventing existing patients being discharged or new ones being admitted.

This in turn heaped pressure on A&E departments, making it more difficult to transfer patients to these blocked beds.

However, despite the extra demand (10 per cent above this time last year) the trust has hit many of its other key targets, including the 18 week GP referral to treatment targets for both admitted and non-admitted patients.

Chief operating officer Stewart Messer said: “To still hit our 18 week cancer and stroke targets was absolutely outstanding during that sort of pressure.”

He added that while targets were important to “sharpen our minds” the primary concern was “quality and patient safety”.

The Alex Hospital is still closed to visitors to protect patients and visitors from norovirus.

Exceptional visiting can be arranged by prior agreement with the ward manager. Please contact the ward directly for information.