HEALTH bosses have issued an appeal to residents hit by winter bugs to stay away from public settings such as schools, hospitals and GP surgeries until they are fully recovered as they launched a multi-pronged plan to cope with an influx of patients.

Nichola Kenny, director of performance at County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust, told Darlington’s health and wellbeing board how its winter plan was “very much focusing on patient safety” and the prevention of overcrowding at accident and emergency departments.

She said the trust had invested an extra £2m into strengthening hospitals for winter, but even if it had put £10m extra into bolstering patient services at the busiest time of year there still would be a shortage of nursing support.

The meeting heard the trust’s winter plan aims included improving its accident and emergency waiting times to less than four hours for 90 per cent of patients and increase capacity in hospitals by reducing long-stay patients – those who are in for at least 21 days – by 42 per cent.

Ms Kenny said another key element of the plan to keep hospitals running efficiently included giving the flu vaccine to at least 80 per cent of hospital staff.

She added: “One of the ambitions is not to have ambulance handover delays, certainly over an hour. That’s something the trust has been working really hard on over the summer.”

However, Darlington Borough Council’s director of children and adults services Suzanne Joyner said the part of trust’s winter plan to reduce its elective surgery programme to “cancers and urgents” for three weeks during winter was “slightly concerning”.

Ms Kenny replied: “It’s something that we have been told to do for the last three years. Then you’ve got beds available for trauma patients.”

The meeting also heard from Dr Deborah Wilson, a Public Health England consultant, who said that while the NHS could not make bugs such as novovirus or flu go away, it was important to residents helped manage them as well as possible.

She said: “They key message for novovirus is that it is around all year, but it spreads very easily and what people can do is wash their hands thoroughly and if they’ve had novovirus do not go visiting other people and sharing it.

“Stay away from school or work for 48 hours. The message is the same. Don’t visit a pregnant woman or your gran if you’ve got flu. You might think you’ve recovered but think of the implications for vulnerable people.”