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Norovirus and influenza at Northumbria Healthcare – winter 2017/18 report

Monday, 23 April, 2018
Norovirus and influenza at Northumbria Healthcare – winter 2017/18 report

Lessons to learn but trust response praised as ‘vigorous and appropriate’ by leading clinician

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has today welcomed a report by world-renowned clinician Professor T H Pennington into outbreaks of flu and norovirus at its sites over the winter of 2017 and 2018.

The report – commissioned by Northumbria Healthcare to review current practice and identify any lessons to be learned –praised the response by trust staff and management and made a number of recommendations covering both short and long-term policy. In particular, it examined the outbreaks on wards four and five at Wansbeck General Hospital (WGH) to determine why outbreaks there were especially bad.

Alongside five policy recommendations (below) the professor highlighted the ‘exemplary’ response made by the trust. It also highlighted the ‘impressive’ work done by the infection control team both before and during the outbreak – notably in their physical presence on the wards and rapport with staff based there.

“We fully welcome this report – in particular how it notes the fantastic response our staff made in difficult circumstances,” said Ellie Monkhouse, executive director of nursing at Northumbria Healthcare.

“The outbreaks this year were of an unprecedented level not seen before at Northumbria Healthcare and we are lucky that our new model of emergency care – with a specialist hospital and three general hospitals – allowed us to maintain patient flow even at the height of the outbreak.  We are also investing in the three general hospitals so as to offer us even greater flexibility in future – for instance, if we need to isolate a patient.

“That said we are not complacent and are determined to do everything we can to have more robust processes in place and to be better prepared in the future. As Professor Pennington notes the systems we already have are as good as you are likely to find anywhere in the NHS – but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better.

“I would like to place on record my deepest thanks to all our staff, from the infection control and domestic teams to estates and those working in an operational capacity. Whether they are based on the wards, in a laboratory or somewhere in between every one of them has worked round the clock for months to keep our patients safe and beds open.

“Finally, I would also like to thank our patients, their families and the public at large. It has been a challenging time but, thanks to their on-going support and understanding, we managed to cope.

“Without their support, it wouldn’t have been possible.”


Recommendations made:

  1. The provision of side rooms/bays with their own toilet facilities at WGH should be given high priority.
  2. Consideration should be given to the development of site-specific outbreak control plans.
  3. Policies regarding staff movement between norovirus affected and unaffected areas should be reviewed.
  4. Systems for getting the earliest information about norovirus and influenza outbreaks in the community should be reviewed.
  5. State-of-the-art molecular epidemiology methods when used to investigate norovirus outbreaks in hospitals have sometimes revealed unexpected sources of transmission. If stool samples have been retained I recommend that PHE is asked to study them.

Note to editor:

The report covers the period from the 13th December to the 9th February and is published on this site.

Professional credentials: Professor T H Pennington

He was Professor of Bacteriology and Head of the Department of Medical Microbiology at Aberdeen University from 1979 to 2003.  He is a medical graduate (University of London), a registered medical practitioner, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists.  In 1996-97 he chaired an inquiry for the Government into the Central Scotland E.coli O157 food poisoning outbreak. He then chaired the Public Inquiry into the 2005 South Wales E.coli O157 outbreak which reported in 2009. Was an expert witness in the norovirus case of Eric Swift & 15 others v Fred Olsen Cruise Lines (Birmingham County Court, judgement 21.01.2015) he was appointed CBE in 2013 for services to microbiology and food hygiene, and am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.


Media contact:

Elliot Nichols – Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

0191 203 1512 / 07966490736


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