TIGHTER restrictions on hospital visiting and a crackdown on hand-washing are part of a new campaign to stop the winter sickness bug norovirus in its tracks.

Last winter, outbreaks of the highly infectious illness caused big problems for Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust, shutting wards, forcing operations to be cancelled and placing huge pressure on bed capacity.

The trust is determined to stop that happening again this time around and is putting a host of extra precautions in place throughout the official NHS winter period, from the start of October until the end of March.

Visiting hours for all wards will be restricted to between 3pm and 7.30pm from the start of October and patients will be strictly limited to two visitors at a time.

Visitors will have to clean their hands with a special alcohol gel before being allowed to enter, while dedicated “cohort” wards are being introduced at Worcestershire Royal and Redditch Alexandra hospitals for the first time. These will allow anyone who arrives with norovirus, or develops the illness during their stay, to be treated in separate wards to other patients.

Lead infection prevention and control nurse Heather Gentry said: “This means that we can better isolate this highly infectious bug and reduce the likely spread of infection to others.

“We may still need to restrict bays on other wards for a short period of time if a patient develops symptoms unexpectedly after admission, but this will be a precautionary measure. It will ensure there has been no further spread and will protect our patients and their visitors from continued exposure to norovirus.”

Infection prevention nurses will be launching the infection prevention campaign next week with information stands at hospitals and will be urging visitors, patients and staff to do all they can to stop bugs from spreading.

“Every year our hospitals come under extra pressure as a result of infections which spread rapidly when in a confined environment,” said Mrs Gentry.

“Last year we suffered more than ever as a result of norovirus spreading through our wards, ultimately leading to cancelled operations.

“As well as putting new measures in place this year to limit the spread of infection where possible, we are reminding people early on what they can do to help and hope that they take the key messages on board.”