Covid-19: Surge Plan Measures Revealed

The Department of Health is implementing a number of surge plan measures to manage the growing transmission of Covid-19 across Northern Ireland.

Two key measures in the plan are the purchase of 40 new ventilators to boost availability to 179 by the end of March and the acceleration of testing to 800 per day.

The escalation comes after the first individual who had tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland died, as confirmed on Wednesday. The person was elderly and had been living with an underlying medical condition.

Estimates suggest that 8% of patients in Northern Ireland will require hospital admission when the situation reaches its peak.

Health Minister Robin Swann said the new measures, combined with social distancing, could reduce the peak by some 50% if carried out effectively.

Deploying student medical professionals, freeing up hospital beds, suspending routine GP work and halting all non-emergency hospital appointments are also among the first phase of health service plans.

Surge plans in full:

• Testing capacity will be expanded to around 800 per day, including for frontline health and social care staff.

• Specific wards with a additional bed capacity for Covid-19 patients have been identified across all health trusts, and 40 additional ventilators have been ordered.

• The new machines, 30 for adult use and 10 for paediatrics, will bring the total availability to 179 by the end of March.

• Plans are also underway to increase the number of critical care beds.

• The Department estimates that around 8% of infected people will require hospitalisation, 0.7% will require critical care, and 1% will die, although age and other health figures can alter these figures.

• Work is underway to accelerate the progression of student doctors nurses, midwives into the workforce to boost staff capacity.

• All nursing and midwifery students in the last six months of training will be deployed to clinical care over the next fortnight, meaning an addition 880 senior nursing and midwifery students will join the workforce.

• Final year medical students are to join the Medical Register four months earlier than planned, making them immediately available to assist in hospitals across Northern Ireland.

• All non-urgent appointments have been halted to free up key staff. Outpatient appointments, day case and elective inpatient services will be maintained for urgent cases. Similarly, surgery for the treatment of cancer and other urgent procedures will continue.
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• Restrictions are to be placed on hospital visiting, with practices in place to ensure patients who are medically well are safely and rapidly discharged from hospital.

• Routine GP work is to be adjusted or suspended in the first number of weeks of the epidemic.

• Requests for consultations will be telephone triaged and an increased proportion of patients will have advice provided by telephone consultation.

• Community pharmacies will endeavour to deliver an increased proportion of prescriptions, hence avoiding the need for people to travel to a community pharmacy.

• Services will be prioritised for those most in need i.e. the vulnerable and those at risk of harm. This will include core children's and young people's services, older people's services, mental health services, and learning disability services.

Detailing the plans in the NI Assembly, Minister Swann said: "Our health service will fast become unrecognisable. Changes that would have seemed unthinkable weeks ago will become the new norm. Decisions that would previously have taken months or even years will be taken in hours.

"If social distancing and other measures are implemented by the population, with a combined effect they could reduce the peak by some 50% and reduce deaths by up to a third.

"There is no doubt that these measures come at a cost. They will be difficult for people to stick to. They will have significant social and economic impacts. But they will save lives."

The Minister also paid tribute to staff across the health and social care sector.

Appealing to the general public, he continued: "We all must continue to rigidly follow the advice on hand-washing and 'catch it, bin it, kill it when we cough or sneeze and use a tissue. I cannot emphasise this enough. This will help keep more of our family members, neighbours and friends well and by doing so reduce pressures on our health service. As I have already stated publicly, doing the right thing is essential if the health and social care system is to get through this.

"This also includes following all the social distancing guidance to the letter, not just today, tomorrow and next week but throughout the months ahead, for as long as it takes."

Addressing the region's first fatality after a patient passed away at a hospital in greater Belfast, Minister Swann added: "I want to express my deep sadness at this death and send my condolences to the patient's family and friends. It is, of course, essential that we respect their privacy at this sad time.

"I would once again appeal to everyone to play their part in fighting the spread of this virus."


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