Covid-19: Northern Health Trust chief promises to protect services ‘as long as we possibly can’

The chief executive of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust has vowed to protect services for as long as possible as the number of Covid patients continues to rise.
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Speaking at Thursday’s meeting of the Trust board, chief executive Jennifer Welsh told members “this time it is significantly more challenging”.

She reported that the ‘R’ number is currently about 1.5.

“We have not shut down large swathes of services that we did before. We know that delaying treatment brings its own problems which could be even more challenging than Covid.”

She said “surge plans” have had to be developed.

“We will protect our services for as long as we possibly can,” she stressed.

However, she cautioned services will be “greatly reduced” as the number of Covid positive patients rises.

She also noted the experience for those delivering services is “quite challenging”.

“We will continue to provide services while also dealing with an increase in Covid-19 cases.”

There are currently 37 Covid positive patients in Antrim Hospital, two in the intensive care unit and 11 in Causeway Hospital, two in ICU.

Neither hospital has seen a drop in attendance in the emergency department. Overall, there is 100 per cent occupancy at both sites.

She also reported that recently 12 members of staff on the second floor at Ballymena Health and Care Centre have tested positive for Covid and all staff who occupied the second floor between October 6 and 14 were asked to self-isolate as a precaution.

She noted the Trust does not have the resources to carry out a “full contact tracing exercise of that scale”.

“Neighbouring teams have absorbed client need to make sure we were able to maintain all those services,” the ehief executive said.

Across the Trust, there were 836 staff absent, on October 20, 615 through “normal” sick leave, 36 have Covid and 184 are self-isolating.

These figures compare to 1,379 staff absent on May 14 through Covid, sick leave and self-isolating, Of these 457 were self-isolating.

Members were also told the Trust is continuing to liaise with trade unions. Matters which have been raised include child care which reportedly becomes an issue with school closures.

Concerns over PPE have also been raised with trade unions.

Owen Harkin, executive director of finance, said he was “pretty confident with the supply of PPE”.

He reported there were “plenty” of masks although a couple that are “quite popular” have been “running out of supply”. As a result, staff have been encouraged to be tested on masks of which there is a “significant supply”.

He said he was “confident” there is enough to last through to New Year with a new supplier in Northern Ireland in January.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

Read another Northern Health Trust story here

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