A hospital trust has drawn up contingency plans to severely restrict child visitors if patients are at risk from diarrhoea and vomiting bugs.
Portsmouth Hospitals trust said the restrictions would be part of a package of measures to be implemented if there was an outbreak in the community. They were an attempt to stop infectious illnesses, such as norovirus, getting into hospitals.
It is thought to be the first time a hospital trust has suggested excluding all children in an effort to pre-empt infection, although some hospitals do discourage child visitors if there is already an outbreak on site.
A spokeswoman for Portsmouth Hospital said there would be no outright ban on children visiting the hospital and some exceptions would be made, but 'if we get to an outbreak situation then it is two visitors to a bed and don't bring children in.' But she agreed there was 'no firm evidence' that children were more likely to spread bugs than adults.
Julie Potter, chair of the Infection Control Nurses Association, said: 'As a general rule I think banning children in times of increased risk makes sense.'
If a visitor to a hospital vomits during their visit, the norovirus can remain on surfaces or suspended in the air and this may lead to more infections, she said.
'Unfortunately although we recognise the impact of norovirus in hospitals, lay people don't always,' she said. 'The bout of diarrhoea and vomiting their child has had is not always seen as a reason for not bringing them into hospital [as a visitor].'
But the move has surprised some infection control specialists. Gabrielle Teague, head of hand hygiene improvement at the National Patient Safety Agency, praised the trust for thinking about contingency plans.
But she added: 'I don't understand the rationale of saying children represent a higher risk than adults.' She would not expect excluding children to have any impact. The Department of Health said it was a matter for individual trusts.
Norovirus (also known as winter vomiting disease) is highly infectious, both through food and person-to-person contact, and outbreaks frequently occur in semi-enclosed communities such as schools and hospitals. The Health Protection Agency recommends isolation of affected patients and says children should be excluded from infected areas.