NOROVIRUS closed 66 beds at Poole Hospital as staff battled with a higher than average occupancy rate.

Winter pressures also saw 45 people who arrived at the hospital by ambulance waiting at least twice as long as the target 15 minutes to be transferred to the emergency department.

NHS England figures for December 9-15 - the latest available - reveal the hospital was more than 92 per cent full, much higher than the 85 per cent rate the British Medical Association suggests should not be exceeded to ensure safe patient care.

At the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals, the occupancy rate was just over 85 per cent with six beds closed due to norovirus.

Of 569 people who arrived by ambulance, 58 waited more than half-an-hour to be transferred to the emergency department.

As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, hospital staff are being encouraged to reduce lengthy hospital stays for patients recovering from an operation or illness. NHS England says the move is aimed at improving care options and freeing up 7,000 beds nationally – the equivalent of 15 large hospitals.

On Sunday December 15, 251 patients had been in hospital for seven days or more at The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals Trust. They accounted for 49 per cent of all beds occupied.

Occupying 16 per cent of beds, 84 patients had been in hospital for three weeks or longer.

In Poole 238 patients - in 51 per cent of occupied beds - had been there for more than a week and 88 patients had been there for three weeks or longer.

A spokesperson for the NHS said: “Hospitals now have more beds open than this time last year, but flu and norovirus have kicked in a bit earlier so are adding pressure at a time when the NHS is already looking after significantly more people than ever before.

“The NHS has already looked after 1 million more people in A&E this year compared to last, and as we head into the holiday period it’s really important that the public help our hard-working staff by getting their flu vaccine now, using the free NHS 111 phone and online service for urgent medical needs, seeing their local pharmacist for minor ailments and ensuring they are stocked up on the medication they need.”