22 September 2021

NI’s ‘besieged’ health service faces ‘grim winter’

22 September 2021

A hospital trust boss has expressed fears for the safety of staff and patients as she warned that Northern Ireland’s health system was besieged due to Covid-19.

Cathy Jack, chief executive of the Belfast health trust, said the region was facing a “grim winter” if more people did not come forward for vaccination.

Ms Jack said the workforce was exhausted and demoralised and were operating with depleted numbers due to increasing staff vacancies combined with absences due to Covid-19 and stress.

Cathy Jack said hospitals, like Belfast’s Royal Victoria, were “besieged” (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

“The expectation that we can bounce back as society reopens is simply a fallacy – this pandemic is far from over,” Ms Jack told a Stormont press conference.

“Let me be direct, health and social care is besieged in terms of hospital care.

“We are continuing to experience immense pressure caused by an increased demand for urgent and unscheduled care coupled with sustained high Covid-19 infections.”

Ms Jack said emergency departments (ED) had experienced “unmatched pressures” in recent months.

She said the number of patients waiting over 12 hours to be treated at accident and emergency had soared by 260% in July.

The chief executive said ED crowding in mid-September was comparable to numbers usually only seen at the very peak of winter.

“The availability of staff in every aspect of our service is limited and stretched,” she said.

“It is little wonder staff morale is so low.”

Around 70% of Covid-19 ICU patients in Northern Ireland are unvaccinated (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Archive)

Ms Jack appealed to those people who had yet to be vaccinated to come forward for their jabs.

“It is a fact that the majority of patients with Covid in our ICU are unvaccinated and account for over 70% of all Covid patients in intensive care and that is this despite making up less than 12% of the adult population,” she said.

“As a chief executive, I worry for the safety of our patients, service users and staff given the challenges ahead.

“If Covid is allowed to spread freely in society, and the vaccination rate does not rise beyond 90%, we will face a grim winter ahead.”

The health trust chief added: “The best thing that we can do to protect the health service is to vaccinate the remaining 12% of the adult population.

“If this happened, we would be in a much better and safer place. Every single jab counts and makes a difference.”

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