More than a dozen hospitals across the country have banned visitors amid soaring cases of Covid as the NHS comes under pressure with nearly one in 10 staff off sick.
Patients in a number of hospital trusts across the UK, including London, Yorkshire and Essex are among those who will no longer be able to receive visitors.
Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust in London, which oversees University Hospital Lewisham and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, said the decision had been “extremely difficult” to make.
Others to have temporarily shut their doors reportedly include Guy’s and St Thomas’, and Barts, in London, as well as trusts in Bath, Ipswich, Lancaster, Liverpool, Nottingham, Preston, Rotherham, Sheffield and Sunderland.
Exemptions apply, including for end-of-life care, women giving birth and children being visited by their parents.
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust, which manages the five NHS adult hospitals across the city, said transmission on some of its sites was linked to people visiting patients.
Chief nurse Chris Morley said: “Sadly the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is now spreading rapidly in the local community, and whilst we have been trying to maintain some visiting because we realise how important this is to patients and relatives, unfortunately the increase in cases does now pose a greater risk of our patients acquiring the virus.”
Hospitals in Lancaster, Kendal and Barrow also closed their doors to most visitors on Friday in a decision medics described as “extremely sad”.
Jane McNicholas, interim medical director at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We understand that visiting is so important during a hospital stay, particularly as we approach the new year, and as soon as we are able to lift the suspension we will.”
Rotherham Hospital has banned visits while the surrounding area contends with the highest community infection rate in South Yorkshire.
Victoria Hazeldine, deputy chief nurse at the trust, said: “The welfare of our patients, their families and our staff is our top priority.”
It comes after warnings from senior NHS leaders about staff shortages across the health service as workers are forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with the virus.
In a Twitter thread on Thursday, Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers, said staff absences were “clearly now having a significant impact” across the health service.
Mr Hopson said: “NHS experience suggests that the impact varies considerably depending on how many staff are isolating, driven by local community infection rates; ability to rapidly source temporary replacement staff; and ability to flex existing staff to cover those who are absent.”