‘People now need to do more to contain virus’

‘People now need to do more to contain virus’

13 January 2021

SENIOR health officials have appealed to people across the district to adhere to public health advice to help prevent the further spread of the killer coronavirus.

The appeal by senior administrators with the South Eastern Trust comes amid warnings that hospitals across Northern Ireland will see “extreme pressures” and increased numbers of Covid-19 related deaths over the coming weeks.

With the NHS in its most dangerous situation in living memory, new figures have revealed that infection rates across the Newry, Mourne and Down Council area are the highest in the province.

More significantly, the Imperial College in London is predicting that the local council area is one of  the top five UK virus hotspots, with the so-called seven day incidence rate standing at just over 800 infections per 100,000 people.

During a special media briefing on Monday, senior health trust officials said they are facing the most serious time in their professional careers, with the health service in the grip of an unprecedented and challenging time.

Officials say it is vital that people exercise individual and collective responsibility to do everything they can to keep themselves and others safe from the disease by acting as if they have the virus.

Health chiefs are concerned that people’s unnecessary interactions could be the link in a chain of transmission which has a vulnerable person at the end, placing them at great risk.

Within minutes of Monday’s press briefing ending, it was confirmed that all outpatient appointments at the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick have been cancelled for the next two weeks — with just a small number of exceptions — due to increasing Covid pressures. 

The hospital’s urgent care centre, which sees around 1,000 patients each month, and weekend minor injuries service remain open, alongside inpatient wards.

Officials say that as all health trusts are entering what is expected to be the most challenging period since the pandemic began, there is a need to cancel outpatient appointments in order to release staff to care for Covid patients.

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, has warned that over the coming weeks there will be an increase in the number of people dying from Covid-19, explaining that there was always going to be a “payback” to the relaxations of restrictions over Christmas.

South Eastern Trust officials confirmed that the organisation had 69 positive Covid patients on Monday and that they were expecting to see the ”worst of the third stage of the virus very soon”.

They say outpatient services have closed as part of the surge plan to deal with the third wave and increasing admissions, with staff allocated for clinics which are no longer running to support their colleagues in inpatient wards across the trust.

And while the particularly transmissible strain of Covid is not present in high levels across Northern Ireland at the moment, health officials insist there is an opportunity to prevent an even more difficult situation arising if everyone complies to public health guidance.

Director of Nursing Nikki Patterson said she anticipates that the coming weeks will be the most challenging of her career and that of her colleagues across the organisation.

She said while the South Eastern Trust is not feeling the extent of Covid pressure as some other areas are currently, she has no doubt that the coming weeks are going to be extremely challenging. 

“It is important at this time to reinforce some of the key messages once again about what we can all do to help ourselves. While all of this is well rehearsed, it is no less important because it has been said so many times before.

“One of the first things for me is about all of us behaving as if we have Covid, in terms of social distancing, hand washing and minimising contacts.”

She appealed to people to only come to hospital when they need to and not to turn up when they don’t need to.

“We know that there are instances where it is absolutely vitally important that people present themselves if they have chest pain or if they think they are having a stroke. It is really important to emphasise that the service is still here for you,” continued Ms Patterson.

“But equally for those who do not require an emergency service or hospital at this point in time, we are appealing to you to make these measured judgements.”

The nursing director said as the coming weeks are going to be difficult, hospitals are not going to be able to care for everyone in the way they normally would, insisting that everyone will do their very best across the organisation to help and support staff to do their best.

Ms Patterson added: “We want to thank those people who have complied with all the guidance. There are many people who have been very good, especially those who are vulnerable and face challenging conditions. What we now need is for more people to follow public health advice to help stop the spread of the virus.”

Mr Charlie Martyn, the health trust’s medical director, said people needed to do more to contain the virus.

“We have all seen people out walking, congregating and meeting up. What we are seeing now around the mixing that has occurred and people meeting over Christmas and New Year is pressures on the wider health system,” he said.

“We all need to do better as individuals and ask people to look at their individual and collective compliance because we need to get out of this. None of us has faced this situation before. We will do the best we can when patients come into us, but if too many people come in and there is too big a demand then that poses difficult questions.”