Coronavirus: Hospitals in North risk being ‘overwhelmed’ in January

ireland
Coronavirus: Hospitals In North Risk Being ‘Overwhelmed’ In January
Dr Tom Black said the 'logical decision' is that the North should go into another four weeks of lockdown now. Photo: PA
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By Michael McHugh and Rebecca Black, PA

Northern Ireland’s hospitals risk being “overwhelmed” by a January Covid-19 spike, health trusts have warned.

Several acute centres are already operating beyond capacity.

Flow of patients through hospital has been “seriously impacted” by pandemic restrictions, a joint statement from the chief executives of six organisations which deliver NHS services said.

They added: “Add pre-existing staffing pressures and staff absence due to Covid-19 infection, or the need to self-isolate, and there is a very real risk that hospitals will be overwhelmed in the event of a further Covid-19 spike in January.

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“We are not making this point lightly and as a result, we are appealing to the public to be extremely cautious over the festive period and to take all necessary precautions to stop the virus spreading.”

A circuit-breaker lockdown to slow the spread of the virus which closed non-essential retailers and hospitality venues ended last week.

'Nightmare' January

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Northern Ireland branch of the British Medical Association (BMA) has said the “logical decision” is that the North should go into another four weeks of lockdown now.

Dr Tom Black warned that Northern Ireland’s health service was facing into a “nightmare” in January due to coronavirus.

Dr Black said the situation was similar to Germany which was now in lockdown while in contrast in Northern Ireland the hospitality sector was allowed to reopen on Friday.

In normal circumstances the “logical decision” would be to have four more weeks of lockdown, Dr Black told BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show on Monday.

Asked about January, he added: “We have a nightmare ahead of us in the health service, there is no two ways about that. It is always the most difficult time of the year and we are in a pandemic. So, I can’t see any alternative to a very difficult situation in general practice, in A&E departments, in Covid wards, and in intensive therapy.”

Further restrictions

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First Minister Arlene Foster said the Stormont Executive would discuss whether further Covid-19 restrictions were needed before the end of the month.

She told the Assembly nothing was inevitable if more people cut down social contacts but accepted that “the numbers are not where we’d like them to be”.

“So we will undoubtedly be having further discussions about this in the days just before Christmas or just after Christmas.”

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said there is concern because the level of Covid-19 is still ‘much too high’. Photo: David Young/PA

Finance Minister Conor Murphy urged members of the public to behave safely.

“There is a concern because the level of Covid is still much too high, and there are still people dying from Covid.

“There is a time lag generally between a circuit-breaker and the effect of that, so we’re hoping to see a more positive outcome.

“But of course there is a recognition that people need to be able to get out and prepare for Christmas. Businesses and hospitality are struggling very badly and they need to get a chance to try to make some money.

“There is also an expectation that people will behave in a certain fashion, that people will observe social distancing, sanitising and make sure that in accessing servicing and goods, shopping and hospitality, they do so in a safe way.”

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