Hospitals have been hit by a three-fold increase in ward closures and infections from the winter vomiting bug in the past four years, figures show.
Norovirus forced 318 ward closures in Scotland last year compared with 107 in 2006-07. Infections among patients and staff increased from 1,026 to 3,166 over the same period.
Rates of norovirus fluctuate from year to year. While this winter has seen a higher number of cases, there’s nothing to suggest that this is the start of an upward trend
The figures, released to Labour following a freedom of information request, showed the highest number of infections was in NHS Ayrshire and Arran with 843 cases, down from a peak of 1,130 in 2007-08.
Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “I am deeply concerned at the huge surge in cases of the winter vomiting bug.
“Dealing with hospital acquired infections should be the health secretary’s top priority, but the situation is getting worse.
“The same conditions that allow norovirus to flourish also leave us exposed to more serious infections like C difficile and MRSA. This means that we need to clean up our hospitals and tackle infection at all levels.”
Infections increased in Tayside, Highland, Lothian, and Dumfries and Galloway, but fell in Forth Valley, Fife and Lanarkshire. Three boards recorded only patient infections and Grampian did not hold the information.
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “Rates of norovirus fluctuate from year to year. While this winter has seen a higher number of cases, there’s nothing to suggest that this is the start of an upward trend and rates have increased UK-wide this winter.
“The guidance for dealing with norovirus is clear and good hand hygiene, coupled with scrupulous standards of cleanliness, is key to tackling this bug. These measures are also crucial for addressing other hospital infections.
“Controlling infections in hospitals is a key priority for both NHS Scotland and the government. Significantly, rates for C diff and MRSA infections are falling significantly which indicates that our strenuous efforts to tackle these are working.”