New rules for hospital visitors in the UK

A major hospital group in the UK has banned visitors from sitting on patients' beds in hospital in an attempt to curb the spread of the superbug MRSA.

In future friends and relatives visiting patients at any of the four hospitals run by Southampton University Hospitals NHS trust will have to follow a new set of rules when they visit.

The measures which have already come into effect follow the publication of national statistics which showed the trust came 40th out of the 174 trusts in England for rates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

There were apparently 92 cases at the trust in 2005-06, with 44 of these in the six months to April.

The average number of cases for hospital trusts in England for this six-month period was 20, with six reporting no cases.

Southampton University Hospital Trust is the eighth largest acute trust in England and the trust has now issued a set of guidelines for visitors which says;

  • Only two visitors at a time will be allowed at the bedside and they must sit on chairs rather than the patient's bed to minimise infection risks,
  • Visitors are asked not to bring very young children into the hospital, unless agreed with the ward manager, and to avoid visiting if they feel unwell,
  • All members of the public will be encouraged to use alcohol hand gel before and after they visit in an attempt to boost cleanliness and drive down infection.

The new measures are part of a new visiting code which also asks visitors to observe normal visiting hours between 3pm and 8pm and not to visit between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, when the evening meal is served in order to allow patients to rest and give staff sufficient time to ensure the wards are clean.

Director of nursing Judy Gillow says they are trying to balance the need to ensure patients have rest times, few interruptions at meals and that the ward is cleaned properly.

The Royal College of Nursing said the measures would improve patient care and the clinical environment.

Doctors are particularly concerned by MRSA because of its resistance to some antibiotics and it poses particular dangers for hospital patients, who already have weakened immune systems, since this resistance means it cannot be cleared up swiftly.

Hand-washing by doctors and nurses is seen as critical in preventing the spread of the infection.

A spokeswoman has stressed that the rules were flexible when patients were very ill.

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