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24 health staff at Antrim Area Hospital test positive for coronavirus

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Staff working on two wards at Antrim Area Hospital have been affected

Staff working on two wards at Antrim Area Hospital have been affected

Staff working on two wards at Antrim Area Hospital have been affected

An outbreak of coronavirus has affected more than 20 staff at a local hospital over the past six weeks.

A total of 24 health workers have tested positive for the virus on two wards of Antrim Area Hospital since April 1. Twelve of those cases have occurred in the last 12 days since 1 May.

The Northern Health and Social Care Trust confirmed the outbreak to BBC NI's Spotlight programme yesterday.

The trust said in a statement to the programme that all the cases involved staff members working on two separate wards, C6 and C7.

Dr Seamus O'Reilly, the trust's medical director, said last night: "Whilst this may be an anxious time for us all, it is important to recognise that it is not an issue which is unique to the Northern Trust.

"We have seen an increase in healthcare workers testing positive for the virus in acute hospitals across the UK and in other countries. The unfortunate reality is that this is always a risk when dealing with patients with infectious diseases, especially those that are considered new and emerging infections.

"Covid-19 in particular presents a number of challenges that are fairly unique.

"We know that people can be incubating the virus without any outward signs of infection for up to 14 days. We also suspect that people are infectious for a period of time, likely two-three days, before they develop symptoms.

"In this case, several staff who had worked alongside those with symptoms went on to develop symptoms later themselves and subsequently tested positive for the virus.

"The trust's occupational health and infection prevention and control teams have been actively supporting staff throughout this period whilst maintaining the safety of the patients on the wards.

"There has to date been no evidence of staff to patient transmission."

Meanwhile, a further 188 NHS staff members within the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust have also tested positive for the virus.

The trust said it tested 2,996 individuals, including some family members of staff, who are not employed by them.

The Western Trust said that out of 1,209 staff it has tested so far, 127 had tested positive.

Last night's Spotlight programme - Inside The Pandemic - heard from front line healthcare staff as they worked under immense pressure.

It also featured footage from inside the intensive care unit at Altnagelvin Hospital, where critically ill Covid-19 patients are being treated.

In addition, the programme investigated alleged failures by the Department of Health to supply all healthcare workers with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic.

In a statement, the department rejected claims that there have not been sufficient supplies of PPE to protect all its workers, adding that it had supplied PPE in substantial volumes to local health trusts, which prioritised areas of greatest need.

Belfast Telegraph