CONDITIONS in an outdated Lothian hospital have been blamed for a norovirus outbreak that has closed wards to new patients and led to a ban on visitors.
Eight of nine wards at Liberton Hospital, which by the latest health board estimate needs almost £10 million worth of maintenance work, were shut more than two weeks ago and friends of patients and family members were told to stay away to cut the risk of the vomiting bug spreading.
Although five of the wards have since reopened to new patients, four remained shut yesterday and the temporary restriction on visitors remains in place in affected areas of the hospital, which specialises in medicine for the elderly and opened in its current form in 1968.
The introduction of the measures has prompted one of the region’s top public health experts to raise concerns about the building and issue a call to her fellow NHS Lothian board members to “think very carefully” about how a facility “fit for the 21st century” could be offered to patients.
Dr Alison McCallum said: “This has highlighted two things. One is the excellent work staff do to minimise the impact of this. The other is that the quality of care for the client group is very difficult to provide in this building.
“It has very few single rooms. It means it’s hard to isolate patients, which is really important when they say they aren’t feeling well. The environment and air flow aren’t up to standard today.”
Liberton Hospital was also not built with enough sinks for modern standards, although some additional basins have been installed.
Since the start of the latest outbreak at Liberton on January 29, 58 patients have been affected by the bug, which is highly contagious and notoriously difficult to contain.
Even if one patient displays symptoms, it can lead to a whole ward having to close. The reduction in beds has caused pressure to mount on NHS Lothian in other areas.
Meanwhile, the new Royal Victoria Building at the Western General, which boasts 100 per cent single rooms, has been largely untouched by norovirus. The vast majority of people recover from norovirus in around two days, although it can prove fatal in very rare cases when it strikes in the very young, old or sick.
Dr McCallum, who is NHS Lothian’s director of public health and public policy, added: “We understand it may have been frustrating but relatives and friends of patients have overwhelmingly supported our efforts and staff have constantly updated visitors on the situation.”