More intensive care beds planned as pressure continues in NI hospitals

  • Health reporter Deborah McAleese reports that there are plans to increase the number of intensive care beds to deal with the latest Covid wave

There are plans to increase the number of intensive care beds across Northern Ireland's hospitals as the latest Covid wave continues to put huge pressure on the health service. Tuesday saw another busy day at hospitals and emergency departments, and earlier the Belfast Trust issued a warning saying they are experiencing severe bed pressures. It is a picture replicated right across Northern Ireland and could last several more weeks. Dr Paul Kerr from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine told UTV News: “Many of the large emergency departments in Northern Ireland at the moment have 40 to 50 patients waiting one or two days to get into the hospital. “As you can imagine that’s a very undesirable situation where the risk is increased both to the patients and to the staff and the staff quite frankly, are suffering burnout at this stage.

The hospital pressures are having a major impact on the ambulance service. Nigel Ruddell from the NIAS, said when crews respond to an emergency callout and arrive at an ED, they are having to wait anything up to five hours in order to handover the patient's care to the hospital. "That makes it extremely difficult to respond to emergency callouts in a timely fashion when our staff are effectively tied up outside hospitals," he explained. Trusts are considering escalating the number of intensive care beds - but that is dependent on nursing staff, with large numbers off due to Covid-related issues.

The Health Minister during a visit to the EH Allingham Construction site, one of the employer led Assisted Testing Sites in operation in NI. Credit: Michael Cooper

More than 200 Covid patients are currently in hospital but, according to the Health Minister, vaccination has helped keep hospitalisation numbers lower than the first two waves of the pandemic. “But we have a health service that is under pressure in regards to any additional work that we do, what we're trying to do is keep as much as our normal day-to-day activity running while we cope with the additional Covid patients coming forward,” Minister Swann commented. This wave of the pandemic is expected to continue into next month. But figures indicate that cases are beginning to plateau and health bosses are hoping to make it through without having to reopen the nightingale hospital as that would put even more strain on the system. Over 60 percent of inpatients are unvaccinated. Many under 30s are still reluctant to come forward for the jab. The Health Minister wants to have a conversation with his Executive colleagues about how to incentivise people who haven't yet received a Covid vaccine to come forward. He earlier said that he would discuss with them whether the high street voucher scheme should only be for those who'd been double jabbed but that was rejected by the Economy Minister Gordon Lyons, whose department is in charge of the scheme.