NHS Lanarkshire has announced that it has suspended all but essential hospital visits in light of the rising number of cases of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) variant Omicron across the area.
The radical step, which will affect inpatients and their families in University Hospital Monklands, University Hospital Wishaw and University Hospital Hairmyers, is to reduce number of people attending hospitals each day.
Visiting will, however, be available in very limited circumstances. This includes people who would be distressed or suffer by not seeing a family member, patients receiving end-of-life care or those accompanying partners during childbirth, on the basis of approval of the senior charge nurse or midwife responsible for the relevant clinical area or their deputy.
The health board has specified that the decision taken has been a difficult one and is because of the high rate of transmission of the Omicron variant of the virus. Susan Friel, Director for Nursing of Acute Services at NHS Lanarkshire, commented:
“We understand that patients in hospital are having a challenging time and want to have their family and friends around them for support.
“It is our priority to protect our patients and staff as much as is possible and this is why we have made the difficult decision to reintroduce essential visiting at this time. However, we will be reviewing this very regularly and as soon as it is safe to do so, we will be expanding visiting by prioritising access for those closest to the patient.
“We recognise that essential visits, which only permit visits to patients where not seeing a family member would cause particular distress or suffering, is not ideal but necessary for the time being.
“Anyone with questions about visiting arrangements should speak to the nurse in charge of the ward.
“We would also strongly encourage all essential visitors to carry out a Lateral Flow Test (LFT) prior to visiting their loved one. Information on how to obtain a Lateral Flow Test and how to take the test is available by visiting NHS Inform online.
“We hope everyone will understand that this decision has been made in the best interests of patients, other visitors and our staff.”
The news of restrictions to hospital visiting comes in the week that Nicola Sturgeon announced changes to social mixing guidance in Scotland over fears of the Omicron variant spreading across the country.
The First Minister has urged people to minimise their social mixing and only socialise with up to two other households either side of Christmas. Setting out the guidance, she said:
“Turning to Christmas Day specifically, or Christmas Eve or Boxing Day or whenever you have your main family celebration, we are not asking you to cancel or change your plans, and we are not proposing limits on the size of household gatherings.
“My key request today is this; before and immediately after Christmas, please minimise your social mixing with other households as much as you can.
“However, if you do plan on socialising, either at home or in indoor public places, we are asking that you limit the number of households represented in your group to a maximum of three. And make sure you test before you go.
“For employers more generally, our guidance is making clear that enabling staff who were working from home at the start of the pandemic to do so again is now a legal duty.”
Furthermore, the First Minister warned that even if the Omicron variant did turn out to cause milder illness, its greater transmissibility could still place a bigger burden on the NHS.
She said that if cases were to rise to 10,000 a week – well within the estimates of government modellers – then even a 50% lower hospitalisation rate compared to the Delta variant of COVID-19 would lead to 700 hospital admissions a week. At the moment, that figure is around 400 per week.
For specific health advice and information in relation to coronavirus and what to do if you have symptoms, key information is provided and updated daily on a dedicated coronavirus section of the NHS Lanarkshire website.