More than a dozen hospitals across the country have temporarily banned visits in efforts to protect patients and staff amid rising Covid infections.
Patients in London, Yorkshire and Essex are among those who will no longer be able to receive visitors as growing numbers of people are bringing cases on to wards.
Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust in London, which oversees University Hospital Lewisham and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, said the decision had been “extremely difficult” to make.
Exemptions apply, including for end-of-life care, women giving birth and children being visited by their parents.
The trust said the restrictions, which came into force at 9am on Wednesday, will be kept under close review and relaxed as soon as it is safe to do so.
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust, which manages the five NHS adult hospitals across the city, said transmission on some of its sites was linked to people visiting patients.
Chief nurse Chris Morley said: “Sadly the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is now spreading rapidly in the local community, and whilst we have been trying to maintain some visiting because we realise how important this is to patients and relatives, unfortunately the increase in cases does now pose a greater risk of our patients acquiring the virus.”
Plans to allow limited visits on New Year’s Day at two hospitals in Coventry and Warwickshire have been scrapped due to the spread of the virus.
University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust (UHCW) had been considering permitting one visitor per patient for an hour to support those stuck on wards during the festive period.
But the trust, which runs University Hospital Coventry, and the Hospital of St Cross, Rugby, called off the proposals on Thursday due to increased Covid cases.
Similar restrictions have been imposed at all hospitals run by East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust.
New Year’s Eve is the last day before all general ward visiting is suspended across Colchester and Ipswich hospitals and community units managed by the trust.
Chief nurse Giles Thorpe said: “We have been keeping a close eye on community Covid-19 infection rates and the number of people in our hospitals with the virus and this is action we really need to take now.
“One of the ways we can keep our staff and patients safe is to reduce the footfall on our sites.”
Hospitals in Lancaster, Kendal and Barrow also closed their doors to most visitors on Friday in a decision medics described as “extremely sad”.
Jane McNicholas, interim medical director at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We understand that visiting is so important during a hospital stay, particularly as we approach the new year, and as soon as we are able to lift the suspension we will.”
Rotherham Hospital has banned visits while the surrounding area contends with the highest community infection rate in South Yorkshire.
Victoria Hazeldine, deputy chief nurse at the trust, said: “The welfare of our patients, their families and our staff is our top priority.”
It comes after warnings from senior NHS leaders about staff shortages across the health service as workers are forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with the virus.
In a Twitter thread on Thursday, Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers, said staff absences were “clearly now having a significant impact” across the health service.
Mr Hopson said: “NHS experience suggests that the impact varies considerably depending on how many staff are isolating, driven by local community infection rates; ability to rapidly source temporary replacement staff; and ability to flex existing staff to cover those who are absent.”