THE discovery of an antique sample of bacteria was the reason for the temporary closure of the A&E department at Russells Hall Hospital last night.

Hospital chiefs took the decision to close the doors of the emergency department for just under an hour - just after 7pm yesterday (Thursday December 23).

Initial reports suggested some kind of chemical incident had sparked the closure, with the Express & Star reporting a man had walked into the facility with anthrax.

The Dudley Group NHS foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, has not commented on the nature of the incident - neither has West Midlands Police.

The UK Health Security Agency, however, said: “UKHSA was made aware of an item which contained unknown antique sample bacteria in a sealed slide. "Based on the information we were given we did not feel it was an immediate risk to the public or hospital staff and advised the hospital to dispose of it in their incinerator.”

Hospital bosses said the A&E department was temporarily closed to the public for around 50 minutes and a spokesman for the trust added: "Ambulances were diverted to other local hospitals during the closure, before the facility reopened at around 8.15pm."

Police are not thought to be investigating the incident although another force is understood to be making some follow up enquiries as a result. But no further information has been given at this time.

Hospital chiefs would not comment on whether all services have resumed as normal but simply urged people to "continue to seek help as normal, including by calling NHS111 and visiting NHS111 online when they need urgent medical attention when it’s not an emergency".