Hospitals and schools in Norwich hit by volcano crisis

Dan GrimmerHospitals bosses have reassured patients they are attempting to maintain 'normal health services' in the coming days, despite disruption caused by the volcanic ash flight ban.Dan Grimmer

Hospitals bosses have reassured patients they are attempting to maintain 'normal health services' in the coming days, despite disruption caused by the volcanic ash flight ban.

Flight restrictions over Scottish airspace were due to be lifted, with other British airports likely to re-open later, but knock-on delays caused by five days of no flights will mean some doctors, nurses and practitioners - as well as patients - will remain stuck overseas.

This had lead to a number of appointments and operations being cancelled in Norfolk. Staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital held an emergency meeting about the situation yesterday.

An N&N spokesman said: 'The disruption to travel has resulted in a few of our staff being unable to get to work and as a result a small number of patient services have been affected.

'Patients who are unable to get back to the UK can rebook their hospital appointment for another time. There are no current or anticipated difficulties in obtaining hospital supplies or drugs. Most NHS supplies are moved by sea, rail or road and whilst we will keep the situation under review we do not forsee any difficulties.'

All hospitals have emergency plans in place to deal with unforeseen circumstances and they are now operating in all hospitals in the region.

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A spokesman for the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston said some staff were stuck abroad but services were not affected and 'patient care was safeguarded'.

At least 11 members of staff from NHS Norfolk out of a total workforce of 392 who were due to return home from annual leave remain out of the country due to the current restriction on flights.

Shamsher Diu, consultant in public health at NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney, said services were largely unaffected but he was still issuing precautionary advice to people.

'We did not see any major health impacts over the weekend but we are still telling people to be careful, especially if they have any bronchial or lung conditions,' he said.

'If you see or smell the ash then it is best to stay indoors. We are constantly monitoring the researching the situation and will let people know when anything gets worse.'

NHS Blood and Transplant, a national organisation which facilitates and organises transplants for patients across the country, said there were no problems with operations since as most organs were transported by road.

Schools also faced disruption when they re-opened today after the Easter break with some staff and pupils still stranded abroad.

Norfolk County Council was unable to say how many children and staff were stranded abroad. It is urging schools to try to stay open where possible, but parents and carers are being advised to check its website for an update of the situation at their children's schools.

It has issued guidance to headteachers, which includes carrying out a full risk assessment to ensure that staff to pupil ratios are adequate, contacting the council with details of any staff absences so support can be offered, and prioritising exams and assessments.

Twelve staff and 50 pupils from Thorpe St Andrew School are stranded abroad. Cassandra Williams, the new headteacher of Thurton Primary School, near Loddon, is unable to start her new job because she cannot get a flight back from Hong Kong.

Schools whose staff are missing also large bills to hire supply teachers as cover.

There is also uncertainty over whether teachers unable to make it into work will have their pay docked. Norfolk County Council said

pay and pupil absence were matters for individual schools and that decisions should be made locally.

Colin Collis, Norfolk secretary of teachers' union NASUWT, said: 'I can't imagine that it's much fun for anyone stuck abroad with all the inconvenience and expense that entails to be worrying about whether they will lose any pay.

'It would be extremely unfortunate if members of staff were penalised for something beyond their control. I hope and expect schools will take a pragmatic and reasoned approach to the issue.'

Hundreds of thousands of passengers have been stranded around the world since the volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in southern Iceland begun erupting on Wednesday for the second time in a month.

European airlines are seeking financial compensation for a crisis that is costing the industry at least �131 million a day - and by some industry estimates up to �197 million a day.

Have you or your family suffered as a result of the travel chaos? Call reporter Jon Welch on 01603 772476 or email