SENIOR officials at the Countess of Chester Hospital are asking people to stay away from the hospital unless absolutely necessary.

A shortage of beds has been made worse by another outbreak of norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea, leading to the closure of two wards to new admissions.

The hospital had to be put on a state of ‘red alert’ on Tuesday morning for the second time in a fortnight as the system neared full capacity.

And visiting to Newgate Ward (50) and Cathedral Ward (42), which are affected by norovirus, is restricted to those loved ones who are critically ill, by arrangement with medical staff over the phone.

Dr Virginia Clough, director of infection prevention control, said: “This is a very busy time of year and the hospital staff are currently under severe pressure. These measures have been put in place to protect further spread of this virus to patients and amongst our staff.”

And Dr Clough, also the hospital’s medical director, requested visitors with flu and chest infections to “stay away” to prevent its spread to patients and staff.

This week’s norovirus infection has so far affected 17 patients as well as four medical staff.

Norovirus is a viral gastroenteritis, a mild, short-lived illness characterised by nausea, vomiting and sometimes diarrhoea. It is highly contagious and in previous years has caused numerous outbreaks of vomiting and diarrhoea in hospital wards, hotels and even cruise ships.

Dr Clough requested all visitors restrict their numbers to just two per visit. And she asked people to wash their hands before entering any ward using the alcohol gel provided.

Dr Clough confirmed the Countess had experienced one of the highest rates of ‘late discharges’ in the country. Discussions were ongoing with Western Cheshire Primary Care Trust to open up more nursing home beds for recovering elderly patients to prevent so-called bed blocking at the hospital.

She said hospital beds had to be occupied by those who needed them most and asked that people do not turn up at accident and emergency unless absolutely essential.

Anyone who feels unwell should contact their GP surgery between 8am and 6.30pm. Those calling outside these hours will be given another number to ring. Alternatively, call NHS direct for advice on 0845 4647. Updated information is available on the hospital website at