FAIRFIELD Hospital has temporarily closed a children’s unit and transferred nursing staff to neighbouring hospitals to help them cope with an “unprecedented” influx of young patients.

On Friday, bosses at Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust decided to shut the children’s observation and assessment ward at Fairfield for up to seven days.

Staff were told at short notice they were being relocated to children’s wards at North Manchester General and Royal Oldham hospitals.

A spokesman for the trust said the Fairfield paediatric ward, which normally operates between 8am and 11pm, may reopen earlier than tomorrow if the demand for beds in Oldham and North Manchester children’s wards eases.

In the meantime, a paediatric registrar remains at Fairfield, based in the accident and emergency (A&E)department, to treat children taken there, although children may subsequently be transferred to one of the other two hospitals where wards are open.

It is understood about 20 staff have been temporarily transferred.

Cathy Trinick, the trust’s interim divisional director of women and children’s services, said the temporary closure of the Fairfield ward was necessary to ensure there were enough staff to provide round-the-clock care for sick children throughout the trust area.

“Over the last few weeks we have experienced unprecedented high levels of children coming into our A&E departments and being admitted to our hospitals, particularly in significant numbers at North Manchester General and The Royal Oldham Hospital.

“This has put additional pressure on our children’s wards. We have opened more beds at both hospitals and additional doctors have been recruited to treat children over these winter months.

“Due to the pressures facing our children’s services and to ensure our children’s units are robust and can continue to provide 24/7 care, it has been necessary to transfer a number of our children’s nurses to assist in the two units at North Manchester and Oldham.”

The increase in demand for children’s beds is not being blamed on an outbreak of norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, which has hit other parts of the country, but a spokesman the trust said extra demands are being placed on A&E departments because of winter illnesses.

He appealed for people to not go to A&E departments with coughs, colds and flu, when they can be treated with over-the-counter medicines, leaving medical staff to deal with those who are very unwell or in need of urgent attention.