A SECOND city hospital has been struck by an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug, forcing health chiefs to close more wards to elderly patients.
The latest ward to be shut is a care of the elderly ward at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh, where three pensioners and about six staff have been struck down by the virus.
The number of wards closed at the old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary has also risen to four after initially dropping following an outbreak there last week.
Health chiefs today said that despite the new cases, the virus, which causes sickness and diarrhoea, was under control.
But the spread of the virus has sparked renewed concerns that the health of pensioners would suffer because the ward closures would make existing bed shortages even worse. There was also concern that elderly patients would become increasingly worried about catching an infection in hospital.
Jess Barrow, head of policy and public affairs at Age Concern Scotland, said: "Containment of the virus is really important. It is obviously very infectious and difficult to deal with, but everything possible must be done to make sure it does not spread any further.
"This will add to the concerns of elderly people who will be even more anxious about coming into hospital for treatment.
"Hospitals need to ensure they have contingency plans to deal with these things. It may well have an impact on problems with delayed discharges."
City hospitals have been experiencing problems with bed blocking, where they run short of beds due to recuperating patients having to stay in hospital when there is nowhere else suitable for them to go.
A spokeswoman for patient watchdog Lothian Health Council also expressed concern about the knock-on effects of the virus.
She said: "It is obviously a problem. They have to close the wards to try to make sure no new cases develop, but that will not help with delayed discharges."
The outbreak was first spotted at the old ERI last week when 23 patients and several staff were found to be affected, forcing health chiefs to close three care of the elderly wards to new admissions in a bid to contain it.
Nine victims recovered but the virus spread to a surgical ward, affecting a further three patients there.
Health chiefs closed that ward too, which in turn forced them to cancel ten non-urgent operations .
Earlier this week, one of the three care of the elderly wards which were first hit was reopened.
The surgical ward has also now been re-opened. However the virus has spread again to two different care of the elderly wards which have now been closed. The total number of closed wards at the ERI now stands at four, with three patients and several staff said to be affected.
Under infection control practice, wards are kept closed until 72 hours has passed since the last new case of infection emerged.
A spokeswoman for Lothian University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs both hospitals, said the closed wards were expected to be reopened tomorrow or Monday.
She said: "It has definitely plateaued. There are now four medical wards [for care of the elderly] at the old ERI which are closed to new admissions.
"We have also had to close one care of the elderly ward at the Royal Victoria Hospital to new admissions. Only three patients and several members of staff are affected at both hospitals.
"We expect to reopen the ERI wards tomorrow and the Royal Victoria ward on Monday."
She added that because none of the wards now closed was a surgical ward there would be no further impact on operations.
Neither of the other two regional health trusts, Lothian Primary Care NHS Trust and West Lothian Healthcare NHS Trust, have reported being hit by the bug .
Earlier this year an outbreak affecting 300 patients and staff forced Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary to close its doors to non-emergency admissions.