Hospitals across Northern Ireland will come under “intense pressure” across the next seven days, the region’s health minister has said.
Robin Swann was speaking as a GP warned that medical staff are facing pressures “unlike any other they have faced before” amid the pandemic.
There were 823 individuals in hospitals in the region with Covid-19 on Monday, 65 of whom were being treated in intensive care.
“Unfortunately when we saw the number of positive cases two-three weeks ago, we knew this was what was in front of us,” Mr Swann told the BBC.
“We know that the next seven days is when we will see that real intense pressure coming on our inpatients and our intensive care units.
“Our worst-case scenario has us modelling up to 1,200 inpatients, and that’s a serious pressure, but then also in the week to ten days that follow the additional pressures then that come on our ICU beds.”
Mr Swann said there are surge plans for ICU to accommodate up to nearly 200 ICU beds.
“That comes at a stretch, that comes with putting our staff under severe pressure in ICU units,” he said, adding that would see specialist nurse/patient ratios go from 1:1 to 1:2-1:3.
“That’s not something we want to do but it’s something that we have modelled and built into that surge capacity.
“Today, we have 144 ICU beds across our system stood up and staffed, and that looks after not just Covid patients but also other patients who need ICU support.”
Dr Tom Black, head of the British Medical Association (BMA) in the region, said staff are doing their best, but many doctors feel they are unable to give care to the “standard they would want”.
On Monday, the Department of Health said a further 19 people who previously tested positive for coronavirus had died in Northern Ireland.
Another 640 individuals have tested positive for the virus.
Some 146,733 coronavirus vaccinations had been administered in Northern Ireland by Monday.
— Department of Health (@healthdpt) January 18, 2021
This includes 125,717 first doses of the jab and 20,016 second doses.
Monday also saw the holding of a Coroner’s Court in Northern Ireland’s Nightingale venue for facilitating courts and tribunals.
The inquest was the first hearing of any kind to take place at Belfast’s International Convention Centre (ICC) at the Waterfront Hall since it became a Nightingale venue earlier this month.
Justice Minister Naomi Long said the move is a “significant milestone” in efforts to ensure that courts and tribunals can continue to operate safely and effectively during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said there has been “no resolution” with the Government in Dublin over data sharing around travellers.
Last week, Ms O’Neill and First Minister Arlene Foster criticised leaders in the South for failing to share information on travellers arriving on the island during the coronavirus pandemic.
Minister Long today welcomed the holding of a Coroner’s Court in Northern Ireland’s Nightingale venue for facilitating courts & tribunals.
The inquest was the first hearing of any kind to take place at @BelfastICC since it became a Nightingale venue.
💻 https://t.co/5sMPCr8VIS pic.twitter.com/9aY8Yi2Zw1
— Justice NI (@Justice_NI) January 18, 2021
The Executive is seeking access data on passenger locator forms filled out by people arriving in the Irish Republic who may travel on to Northern Ireland.
Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill indicated on Thursday that they planned to raise the matter directly with Taoiseach Micheal Martin.
The matter is set to be discussed on Wednesday at the meeting which will involve Ms Foster, Ms O’Neill, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis.
“We have raised this issue on every occasion we have had opportunity to raise the issue, and I think it is really regrettable there hasn’t been a resolution as of yet,” Ms O’Neill told MLAs.
“I hope that perhaps Wednesday’s meeting will allow some opportunity for there to be a way forward.
“We believe the [legal] issues have been resolved, so I don’t see any barrier now in terms of information being shared.
“I think a conversation at the highest level of government is the way to resolve these things. There is a political solution to the issue of travel and I hope that can be found.”