Covid-19: Nightmare six weeks ahead for NI health service

Covid-19: Nightmare six weeks ahead for NI health service

The NI health service faces a “nightmare six weeks ahead”, the chair of NI’s British Medical Association (BMA) has said.

Dr Tom Black said pressure on the system meant healthcare staff “will have to make moral and ethical decisions they weren’t trained for”.

Hospitals in NI have faced severe pressures over the last few days with ambulances queuing outside hospitals.

“You really don’t want to get sick over the next six weeks,” Dr Black said.

On Tuesday night, doctors treated patients in ambulances with 17 vehicles queued outside Antrim Area Hospital hospital at one point.

Dr Black told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme that society must “recalibrate” to remember why the public health guidance is important.

He described the last eight weeks of restrictions as “insufficient.”

“I’m really annoyed about the position that the staff in NI have been put under – they’re worked to the bone and are now going to have to make choices they should not have to make in a civilised society,” he added.

Dr Black said he believed the Republic of Ireland was “coping much better than we are”.

The executive is due to meet later on Thursday, but Mr Black said he felt NI was “nearly past more restrictions”.

Meanwhile, Dr Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology at the Royal Society of Medicine, told BBC Radio Foyle the executive “needs to be very clear about the seriousness of the situation”.

“People shouldn’t celebrate Christmas the way we traditionally have done with family gatherings, particularly multi-generational gatherings,” he said.

He said he believed bars and restaurants should not be open.

“When you have actually loosened restrictions in the face of increased pressure on our hospitals, an increased number of cases that is lunacy, that is a failure of political leadership and a failure of professional leadership and expert advice,” he added.

Chief Executive of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, Jennifer Welsh, also told the programme she knew many families were choosing not to get together over Christmas due to concern about the potential impact on other family members.

“That is the situation my own family is going into and that’s the message that I would want to put out,” she said.

She added that the emergency department situation had improved slightly but the numbers are still higher than should be expected at this time of year.

“It is concerning in December when we know there is worse to come,” she said.

Meanwhile NI’s Chief Nursing Officer Charlotte McArdle, said the lack of access for some families to their relatives in care homes during the pandemic had been a real “concern” for her.

Department of Health officials issued a joint letter on Wednesday to the care home sector urging visits for residents to be facilitated over the Christmas season.

“This letter is our obligation to families, to make sure that people are not left out on their own over Christmas,” she said.

“There is a bit of stick in here, but we would much rather a carrot approach, and we will continue to provide support to care homes,” she added.

“It’s access to families to see their relatives over what is supposed to be a time of family togetherness,” she said.

Health Minister Robin Swann had previously said “forceful encouragement” could be necessary if some care homes do not change their visiting arrangements.

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