Health Minister seeks Army assistance amid Coronavirus outbreak

The Health Minister has made two formal requests to the Army for assistance to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak in Northern Ireland.

Robin Swann has confirmed that he has sought out the military's assistance to help with the redistribution of essential life-saving equipment.

The Ulster Unionist MLA also asked for the Minister of Defence to assist with the development of a further Nightingale facility "in the event of an extreme surge of Covid-19 patients".

Military personnel at the ExCel centre in London. Credit: PA Images

It follows in the footsteps of 'NHS Nightingale' at the ExCel centre in London, a temporary hospital built to boost capacity during the pandemic.

More 'Nightingale' hospitals are set to be built around the the UK, with planned sites including Bristol, Harrogate, Birmingham and Manchester.

In a statement, the Health Minister said "this weekend I have now approved two decisions to activate the Military Aid to Civil Authorities (MACA) process."

He continued: "The MoD and our Armed Forces have a wealth of talent, expertise and resource that I believe could and should now be utilised to help our collective fight against Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

“I believe the army’s skills and logistical expertise could assist with the redistribution of essential life-saving equipment across Northern Ireland to ensure that all hospitals have the materials and resources required to fully enact their surge plans.

"I’ve also decided that the MoD could assist with the possible development of a further temporary Nightingale facility in the event of an extreme surge of Covid-19 patients."

The Health Minister said the decision shouldn't be considered divisive. Credit: PA Images

Mr Swann added: “My number one priority right now is to save lives and protect those of the staff on the front line. I believe the time has now come that the MoD can help me with that.

“I hope the decision is approved and is widely supported. It shouldn’t be considered divisive, especially as I have said a number of times over recent weeks that at the end of this pandemic there will be only one thing that divides us – and that is those of us that are still alive and those that have sadly passed away.”

Michelle O'Neill is seeking meetings with the British Secretary of State, the Tanáiste and the PSNI. Credit: PA Images

In response, the deputy First Minister has said she is seeking an urgent meeting with the Healh Minister after claiming he requested the assistance without consulting the Executive.

Michelle O'Neill said: "Sinn Féin has made it clear we will not rule out any measure necessary to save lives, protect the public and tackle the spread of Coronavirus.

“However, no proposal to use British military personnel in the north for roles normally performed by civilians has come before the Executive."

The Sinn Féin Vice President added: “The health minister has a responsibility to exhaust all options, including the use of other blue light public services and civilian contractors, to ensure that ventilators and life saving equipment are moved swiftly to where they are needed most.

“The Department for Health has already contracted a local civilian contractor to scope out building a HSC-led civilian 'field hospital’.

“It remains Sinn Féin’s position that any proposed new Nightingale hospital should remain under the care and control of the HSC.

“Sinn Féin is seeking an urgent meeting with the health minister, on his failure to consult ministerial colleagues at yesterday’s Executive meeting.

She concluded: “We will also be seeking meetings with the British Secretary of State, the Tanáiste and the PSNI given the seriousness of a decision to bring in the British military.

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