HOSPITALS in the Tyne Valley will introduce partial visitor restrictions in response to rising rates of norovirus in the area.

Cases of the winter vomiting bug have been rising in schools and care homes in recent weeks.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust's restrictions will be in place from 9am on Friday, December 14, with both Hexham and Haltwhistle hospitals affected.

The trust hopes that by acting before the virus reaches hospital patients in large numbers, a total ban on visitors can be avoided.

Visitors were frequently banned from visiting hospitals due to outbreaks of flu and norovirus last winter, and interim executive director of nursing and midwifery, Marion Dickinson, says the trust want to avoid a similar situation this year.

Marion said: "This is a decision we have taken after very careful consideration and is based on hard lessons learned from last year.

"Absolutely no one wants to stop people seeing their loved ones when they are in hospital; we know, often first-hand, how important it is.

"However, norovirus is more than just unpleasant. To many it can be harmful, to the most vulnerable it can be deadly – and the safety of our patients is our overriding priority."

The restrictions mean that no children under 12 can visit at any time, while visiting on all inpatient wards is restricted to between 2pm and 2pm and 6.30pm and 7.30pm.

In addition, on all wards there can be no more than two visitors per patient on the ward at any time, and only one visitor per patient is permitted in emergency departments or ambulatory care departments.

There are also restrictions in place in maternity units and paediatrics, with only close relatives allowed outside visiting hours.

The trust is also asking for the public’s help to minimise the spread of winter illnesses and to ease the burden on NHS services.