Science Interviews


Mon, 24th Feb 2014

The healthcare cost of norovirus

Keith McNeil, Addenbrooke's Hospital

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How do hospitals protect their patients against norovirus, and how much does this bug cost them every year? Kat Chocolate MoneyArney speaks wiith Keith McNeil, the chief executive of Addenbrooke's hospital...

Kat - So tell me for you, running a big major hospital like Addies, what are the costs of norovirus?

Keith - Well, that's a very complicated question and its multifactorial. So, in principle, any illness that adds to the complication of an admission of a patient to hospital adds additional cost. If its a young healthy adult and you get norovirus, and they lengthen their stay by a day or so. Or they may be ought to be discharged appropriately. But if you're frail and elderly or you have an immune disease or complicated surgery, your stay in a hospital can be lengthened quite significantly. If you are on the intensive care unit, it can be devastating. So, its difficult to quantify in absolute terms. The other thing is, of course, once we get norovirus in the hospital in significant numbers, we have to escalate to stop it from spreading and that can mean isolation of patients or even closure of entire wards or bed bays to stop that virus from spreading. That then has flow on effects in terms of our ability to do the work that were setup to do to do elective surgery to service the emergency room and flow patients through. And we have a problem then in generating the income that we need through that activity. So, a big outbreak is costing us hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Kat - I guess also there's a risk that your staff would get it too and suddenly, you'll find yourself with no doctors and nurses.

Keith - That is a big risk. I think that's been pointed out by the two ladies on the panel that infecting the staff and knowing how long they're going to be shedding for and potentially spreading it further is very important to us.

Kat - Addenbrookes is doing quite well I understand in terms of keeping norovirus out. What's the worst you've ever seen it there and what do you think is the secret to your success at the moment?

Keith - Well, I've only been in Addenbrookes for 12 months now, but I do understand that a couple of years ago, I think there were 5 or 6 wards closed which is a tremendous burden on the hospital and on the whole community. So, whenever that sort of thing happens, weve got escalation protocols to try and lock it down as quickly as we can and prevent it spreading further deep clean the wards, we highlight the need for people not to turn up if they don't have to, restrict visitors, etc.

Kat - What do you think if you could tell people listening to this, what are the key things that the public can do to help you keep noro out of the hospitals?

Keith - Whenever they come in to the hospital, make sure they wash their hands when they come in when they go on to the wards, and when they leave the wards. So, hand washing has been highlighted as being very important in controlling this infection.

Kat - I guess the irony is, if you actually have noro, the last place you should go is a healthcare facility like your GP or a hospital. If people have it, they should just stay in I guess.

Keith - Well, if they're otherwise well, yes, they should. Its usually self-limiting in healthy people. If you're otherwise unwell, of course sometimes, you just have to turn up and receive care. But certainly, if you've got these self-limiting illnesses you should try and stay away from other people and particularly from health facilities whenever you can.


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