800 shut out of Dunedin Hospital

Dunedin Hospital remains under lockdown this morning as managers try to contain the spread of a highly infectious norovirus after 17 more cases were reported at the weekend.

All outpatients clinics, elective surgery, planned admissions and investigations scheduled for today have been postponed, affecting more than 800 people.

Security guards on the door yesterday turned away casual visitors, allowing in only hospital personnel bearing identification and visitors where there were exceptional circumstances.

Visitors with flowers, clothing or other items for patients were asked to leave them in a shopping trolley at the hospital's main entrance.

Only the emergency department remained open to the public after the lockdown was imposed about midday on Saturday in an attempt to contain the spread of the norovirus, which had infected 57 staff and patients in recent weeks.

Visits to Wakari Hospital have also been restricted.

Dunedin Hospital operations manager Megan Boivin said staff spent the day yesterday attempting to individually contact the 800 people whose appointments would be affected today.

Hospital managers would meet this morning to decide if the hospital would reopen.

People with appointments or who expected to be admitted to the hospital tomorrow should listen for updates on local radio ststions today, Mrs Boivin said.

It was not known when the hospital was likely to be fully operational again, but the two wards still closed, Wards 7A and 8A, would remain so until the last person affected had been free of the symptoms of norovirus for 48 hours.

The situation would be reassessed every day and the public kept informed.

Patients who were not showing any symptoms of the illness, or had not shown any for more than 48 hours, were being discharged as usual.

Those restrictions, as well as isolating patients ill with norovirus, seemed to be controlling the outbreak of diarrhoea and vomiting despite 10 patients and seven staff falling ill since Friday, Mrs Boivin said.

On Thursday, the Otago District Health Board believed it had the norovirus outbreak under control, but restricted access to the hospital on Friday when five wards became affected.

The decision to postpone outpatient clinics, planned admissions, elective surgery and investigations scheduled for today was very difficult, Mrs Boivin said.

"There's pressure on the hospital but we are managing the best we can."

People requiring urgent hospital attention would continue to be seen at the emergency department and people who required laboratory tests should go to other collection centres, for example, Southern Community Laboratories on Hanover St, beside the Urgent Doctors.

"We very much regret the need to take this action but we must protect our patients from illness and not expose others to illness.

"We are very sorry for the inconvenience to our patients and staff."

It was hoped the measures would see a continued reduction in the number of new cases occurring in hospital.

"We will remove the restrictions as soon as the situation is under control."

Meanwhile, the Service and Foodworkers Union felt a lack of resources was partly to blame for the outbreak.

The union's southern regional secretary, Campbell Duignan, said there had been issues over cleaning service provisions in hospitals for years and what was being seen now was the outcome of a legacy of cost-cutting and contracting out.

"For too long, cleaning has been viewed as a cost to be minimised and a substantial investment in the cleaning sector is urgently needed."

Mrs Boivin said she had no concerns about the standard of cleanliness in the hospital.

The contractors the hospital used were "top notch" and none of the cleaning staff had fallen ill.

Wards were undergoing major cleaning and cleaning schedules had been increased, especially in toilets, since the outbreak to try to minimise the spread of norovirus.

As a precaution, all entering the hospital were asked to wash their hands with antimicrobial gel at temporary hand washing stations.

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