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Norovirus caused the equivalent of two entire hospitals to be closed this winter



The number of patients suspected of norovirus this year lead to the equivalent of two entire hospitals being closed.

Offical figures have shown that almost 75,000 beds in the NHS hospitals in England have had to be taken out of service over the course of this winter because of suspected cases of the highly contagious Norovirus infection, the highest figure for five years.

The average number of beds closed each week this winter, 5,722, is 32 per cent higher than the average of the previous four winters.


On the single worst-affected day this winter, over 1,200 beds had to be taken out of service, equivalent to around two entire hospitals being closed.

With fewer beds available, hospitals find it harder to admit new patients, particularly those being transferred as emergencies from A&E departments. This is a contributing factor to NHS Trusts being unable to meet the Government’s target of 95% of patients attending A&E being seen within four hours.

A sick elderly staying at a hospital

In February, NHS England announced it has temporarily suspended the financial penalties associated with the 4-hour target.

Commenting on the findings of the analysis, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary Janet Davies said:

“Nursing staff work extremely hard to prevent the norovirus infection spreading.  But with so many beds being lost to the illness this winter, bed stocks are reaching unsustainably low levels.  When the Health Service is under the extra pressure of winter, the loss of even a few hundred beds a day can have severe consequences for hospitals.

“This reduction in beds then makes it much harder for A&E departments to get patients admitted to wards quickly as emergencies.  It’s no surprise most Trusts aren’t meeting the A&E four hour target when Norovirus is having this big an impact on bed stocks.

“Bed occupancy rates have also been extremely high this winter, averaging 94 per cent [see note 6] – part of the reason experts recommend that no more than 85 per cent of the beds are occupied at any one time is to prevent infections such as Norovirus spreading.  Infection control procedures are made more difficult when beds have to be turned round so quickly between patients.

“What this shows is that despite the intense focus on the A&E four hour target in coverage of winter pressures on the NHS, there are actually many different factors at play, all interlinked – it’s the whole system of getting patients into and out of hospitals that is broken”.

RCN Professional Lead for Infection Prevention and Control Rose Gallagher commented:

“Patients can help hospitals and nursing staff by informing staff when they’re admitted to hospital if they’ve been showing symptoms of diarrhoea or vomiting, or if the infection is currently affecting those they live with.  In addition, friends and family should not visit people in hospital if they know they are infected themselves.  Finally, many people do not realise that hand sanitisers alone do not provide effective protection against Norovirus – in order to try and break the cycle of infection, people should instead wash their hands with soap and water.

“It’s important to note that not just patients but also nursing staff often fall victim to Norovirus outbreaks – which then exacerbates existing staffing problems, as affected staff shouldn’t report for duty until they’ve been symptom-free for 48 hours.  If they return to work too early, staff risk unknowingly passing on the illness, as they remain infectious.  Norovirus presents a big challenge to nursing staff in winter, and we can all play our part in trying to reduce it”.


Safe staffing and equality have been an issue since the start

Parliament passed the Nurses Registration Act in 1919.



State registered nurse

A new exhibition charts the history of nursing from the Nurses Registration Act to modern-day.

In the centenary year of nurse registration, a new exhibition charts the history of the journey from the Nurses Registration Act in 1919 through to the modern-day.

Called ‘Wake up Slackers! The great nursing registration controversy’ the exhibition looks at the heated arguments around the official registration of nurses through the first registration of men, overseas nurses and one of the first nurses to be struck off.


The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) was just three years old when registration first happened and securing this had been part of its founding ambitions.

The exhibition shows how many of the discussions and controversies of the past, including safe staffing, continue today and influence many of the discussions around modern nursing.

The Nurses Registration Act.

The exhibit contains artefacts from the RCN archive including invites to member meetings to discuss the College’s proposals for state registration, House of Commons Parliamentary debates during the year the Nurses Registration Act was passed in 1919, as well as drafts of legislation.

Opening during Black History Month, the exhibition also showcases the story of Eva Lowe, one of the first known black nurses on the register. Research shows how, despite being well qualified she was rejected many times before finding employment. It shows how she received vague and unsatisfactory excuses for her rejection, some based on false concern for her welfare.

As well as letters and documents from the RCN’s own archive, the exhibition will also feature items loaned from other collections such as that of the regulator the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Are nurses born or made?

Frances Reed, Events and Exhibitions Co-ordinator at the Royal College of Nursing said: “It is incredible today to think that 100 years ago there were arguments about whether or not nurses should be registered.

“Today it seems unthinkable for somebody with such responsibility for the welfare of patients not to be registered and yet there were strident clashes over it, despite other health professions securing regulation well before nursing.

“The story of the first black nurse on the register, Eva Lowe is important to highlight too. There is little known about black nurses whose names are on the very early 1920s registers.  It is essential we recognise that their contribution to health care existed well before Windrush.

“It’s also particularly striking to see how hard Eva Lowe had to fight to become the first black nurse on the register, and how 100 years later racial inequalities still exist in the health and care system.

The exhibition runs at RCN HQ in Cavendish Square, London 17 October – 20 March 2020

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One in six nursing associates drop out before qualifying, finds report

Despite this trainees showed “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”.



Group of nurses in meeting

Only 65% of trainee nursing associates said they planned to work as a nursing associate once qualified.

An independent evaluation of the nursing associate role commissioned by Health Education England (HEE) has found that while there are “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”, one in six nursing associates are dropping out before completing the course.

Attrition rates for trainee nursing associates fell slightly below that of student nurses, with 18% leaving before completing the course.


While ill health and personal issues were some of the most common reasons for leaving the programme, nearly a quarter (23%) withdrew because they failed to meet the academic requirements of the programme – with numeracy skills cited as a key issue.

One trainee said they found the “attitudes towards the role and the negative feedback about Nursing Associates” challenging.

Only 65% of trainees said they intend to continue working as a nursing associate once qualified as the programme is often seen as a stepping stone to becoming a registered nursing.

Highlighting challenges.

Mark Radford, Chief Nursing Officer, Health Education England said the report “highlights some challenges that we must address to ensure that students such as ensuring the quality and oversight of placements, attrition and numeracy support.”

“We also recognise that further work and research is required to ensure that the profession is supported and utilised in the workforce of health and social care as part of the MDT. I am pleased to be able to report that we are in the process of identifying candidates to be considered as NA ambassadors across England.

Commenting on the report, Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Executive and Registrar for the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), said; “Having had the pleasure of meeting many nursing associates across the country, I am continually inspired by their enthusiasm and dedication for providing care and they should be very proud of the difference they make for the people they support.”

“I look forward to seeing how nursing associates continue to develop and be supported in their work, long into the future.”

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