NHS gearing up for major flu outbreak

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LOTHIAN health chiefs are gearing up for a major flu outbreak with the arrival of cold weather which is driving away the winter vomiting bug.

Today people in the area were urged to do all they could to stay well as NHS Lothian revealed how it would spend 1.6 million from the Scottish Executive to help combat increased patient numbers during the winter.

Lothian will have an extra 199 delayed discharge beds at Edinburgh’s Eastern General Hospital, Corstorphine Hospital and Western General Hospital, for people who are well enough to leave hospital but have nowhere to go.

Sixteen more intensive care beds at the Western, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on Lauriston Place and at St John’s Hospital in Livingston will be opened, as well as a further 45 rehabilitation beds for patients at ERI, the Royal Victoria Hospital, Astley Ainslie and St John’s.

There will also be a further 68 acute beds at St John’s, the Western and ERI.

The winter vomiting bug has forced health chiefs to cancel 20 operations during the past month after affected wards had to be closed to new admissions at ERI, the Western, the Royal Victoria Hospital and Corstorphine Hospital.

Today there were understood to be only a handful of patients and staff still affected by the bug, with all closed wards re-opened, apart from two at ERI. However, the virus has spread again, hitting Liberton Hospital, where one care of the elderly ward is understood to have been closed.

Dr Charles Swainson, medical director at Lothian University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "Winter vomiting will gradually go away now as the weather becomes colder - and flu will start within the next few weeks.

"Winter vomiting happens every year. There is no vaccine and no special treatment. The illness lasts three or four days and we have no idea why it is worse in some years and in some places than others.

"Last year, Edinburgh got off lightly, this year we have been more affected.

"As you have already read in the Evening News, we have had a lot of patients affected across a number of wards, and we have had quite a lot of staff off sick too. Thankfully nobody has died.

"We have had to cancel more operations than usual because of this. All those affected patients have been offered a fresh date for treatment within the next six weeks or so."

Dr Swainson repeated claims that there would be enough beds to cope with any flu outbreak, stressing that the extra winter cash meant Lothian now had 312 more beds than it had during the summer and 52 more than were available last winter.

He said: "Even with the current pressure on beds - a consequence of delayed discharges - the answer to the bed question is still the same. Yes, there are enough beds - we just use them differently.

"Every winter we deliberately aim to do fewer planned procedures and operations than we would normally do in the rest of the year."

The extra beds have been funded through Lothian’s share of the Scottish Executive’s national handouts for winter, including 12m for extra services and 20m for combating delayed discharge.

Extra cash will also be earmarked nationally to fund more ambulance transport and emergency GP services .

Dr Swainson urged people to do all they could to stay well and out of hospital, including getting vaccinated if they were eligible and stocking up on simple remedies if they got flu.

He added: "Please do not come to the A&E departments unless you are really ill. For a suspected infection or pain, see your GP first."