It would have been preferable for the Government to have alerted the public about the recent spread of a suspected norovirus in St Bernard’s Hospital at the outset instead of keeping quiet about it until the situation was brought under control, says the Opposition.
They add: The seriousness of the outbreak is reflected in the fact that four wards had to be closed and many operations cancelled. However, given that many people were not aware that this was going on, they continued to attend the hospital for routine matters that could have waited in complete ignorance of the possibility that they could be exposed to the virus. This applied to elderly and young children, who are most at risk and also to persons with immunity disorders among others.
It also applies in the reverse. The lack of information means that people with symptons of norovirus, most commonly vomiting and diarrhoea, could attend the hospital for another reason and unsuspectingly start or contribute to the outbreak that was already in progress.
The official advice of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom is to avoid visiting hospitals if someone has the typical symptoms of norovirus infection in the past 48 hours because the virus is spread more easily among people who are already ill. The NHS even suggests that patients may be asked to rearrange outpatient appointments if they have had recent symptons.
The GSLP/Liberal Aliance goes on to say that, given that the public was not even aware that there was such an outbreak in Gibraltar and in the hospital, in particular, it is obvious that extra precautions of this kind could not have been taken. The first unofficial reports is that the closure of some wards started around 8 February and it was not until about a week later that the Government, through the GHA, saw it fit to officially alert the general public as to what was going on. This is clearly unacceptable.
It is a known fact that the viruses are transmitted by faecally contaminated food or water, by person to person contact and by the virus becoming airborne and subsequently contaminating surfaces. Indeed, when a patient vomits the virus can be aerosolised by a toilet flush when vomit or diarrhea is present and infection can follow eating food or breathing air near an episode of vomiting even when this has been cleared up. It is believed that shellfish and salad ingredients are the foods most often implicated in norovirus outbreaks. The cause of the recent outbreak at St Bernard’s Hospital does not appear to have been determined with any precision, as yet.
Commenting on the matter, Shadow Minister for Health Neil Costa said: “It would have been helpful if the Government had notified people earlier of the potential danger posed by the norovirus and of the fact that wards had been closed and operations cancelled. This would have left people with a choice as to whether they wanted to go to the hospital for any routine matter or postpone their visit until a later date. The fact that people were left in the dark meant that they had no choice.”