In Scotland, noroviruses, which cause diarrhoea and vomiting, are the leading cause of healthcare-related outbreaks and the commonest cause of disruption due to ward closure in the winter months.
The effects of norovirus outbreaks in hospital wards and care homes can be significant, leading to additional patient care needs and increased staff sickness, with resulting costs and pressure on the NHS.
In research funded by the Chief Scientist Office Scottish Infection Research Network, GCU researchers led by Professor Kay Currie aimed to establish the acceptability to patients, visitors and the public in Scotland of temporary suspension of visiting hours as a control measure to reduce transmission of norovirus.
In a survey of 500 patients, visitors and the public, researchers found that 85% of respondents indicated that the possible benefits of temporary suspension are greater than the possible disadvantages, and around 82% found this more acceptable if exceptions were made for seriously ill or dying patients. The findings have been published in the Journal of Hospital Infection.
Researchers also sought to describe current practice in Scotland during norovirus outbreaks in order to reduce inconsistencies in hospitals and care homes.
The group found that temporary suspension of visiting hours varied considerably across the NHS in Scotland, with inconsistent availability and use of criteria or policy to guide clinical staff in making decisions about implementing the practice.
In some areas there was a clear policy in place and suspension was routinely implemented; in others hospitals advised visitors of the risks instead, reportedly due to concern regarding patient and public involvement partners’ views.
Professor Currie said: “The findings from this research are important as this is the first study to ask patients, visitors and the public directly for their views about suspending visiting during norovirus outbreaks. Some healthcare staff are concerned that stopping visiting could be out of step with the current NHS ethos of person-centred care.
“However, our results show that the measure is acceptable to patients, visitors and the wider public, as long as effective communication is put in place to advise visitors and exceptions are made for seriously ill patients. Our findings have now been integrated into NHS Scotland Policy Guidance on the management of norovirus outbreaks and we are hopeful that this will lead to greater consistency in practice nationally.”