HEALTH Secretary Alex Neil has said an outbreak of norovirus that shut a hospital's accident and emergency department was "unprecedented" in its scale.

People with minor injuries were told to abandon Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, and travel 15 miles to Wishaw General Hospital last week because doctors were overwhelmed by demand.

NHS Lanarkshire apologised on Saturday for the situation and said that two wards were closed and a further four were placed under restrictions because of the bug, which causes sickness and diarrhoea.

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Mr Neil told the Scottish Parliament yesterday that the outbreak was "very exceptional" and that he had been working with the health board to resolve the crisis and improve access to treatment.

The outbreak left some patients struggling to get care. One 85-year-old woman, who had fractured her sternum and wrist, was told she would have to spend a night on a trolley after waiting several hours to be seen as there were no spare beds.

Mr Neil said: "We are in regular touch with NHS Lanarkshire about the very exceptional outbreak of norovirus at Hairmyres Hospital, the extent of which has led to some disruption in the provision of services.

"The outbreak at the hospital is unprecedented, and the action that has been taken by NHS Lanarkshire has focused on the safety of patients and, indeed, staff. I will ask NHS Lanarkshire to ensure that all Lanarkshire MSPs are updated as soon as possible on the situation."

Central Scotland MSP Margaret McCulloch said: "Norovirus is compounding the widespread and well-documented challenges NHS Lanarkshire already faces. This is a health board with problems recruiting consultants, an on-going crisis in A&E and now we have a norovirus outbreak on an unprecedented scale putting hospital wards at ­Hairmyres into lockdown.

"NHS Lanarkshire must explain what caused this outbreak, how it spread so widely and why it was not contained and they need to convince people that there are contingencies in place to deal with the huge disruption."