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24-hour treatment hubs plan to ease coronavirus strain on health staff

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Specialist centres to treat patients with coronavirus and reduce the strain on GP surgeries and emergency departments are to be set up

Specialist centres to treat patients with coronavirus and reduce the strain on GP surgeries and emergency departments are to be set up

Specialist centres to treat patients with coronavirus and reduce the strain on GP surgeries and emergency departments are to be set up

Specialist centres to treat patients with coronavirus and reduce the strain on GP surgeries and emergency departments are to be set up.

Health bosses are finalising plans for the facilities, which will draft in GPs and hospital doctors to treat patients with respiratory symptoms.

It is understood the centres will operate 24 hours a day and could be up and running by next week.

It comes as concerns grow that the health service could come under increasing pressure after the Government ramped up its efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Under the most recent guidance, entire households must isolate for a fortnight if anyone has a cough or a fever.

However, this means that healthcare workers may be unnecessarily absent from work, which could potentially cripple the already fragile health service here.

The situation calls for healthcare workers and their loved ones to be tested quickly to allow crucial NHS staff to return to work as soon as possible. Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association Council in Northern Ireland, said: "It is vital that we do everything we can to make sure staff can be at work.

"We are getting an awful lot of prescription requests and we had one of our busiest days on Monday with people ordering prescriptions.

"We actually had to bring in some of our retired staff to cope with the volume of prescription requests.

"The process of seeing patients with respiratory symptoms is also lengthy; we have a special room and we bring patients through a separate door and the staff wear protective equipment.

"The room then has to be deep cleaned so we're having to allocate 30 minutes to deal with each of those patients."

Dr Laurence Dorman, chair of the Royal College of GPs in Northern Ireland, has also called for healthcare workers and their relatives to have rapid access to Covid-19 diagnostic tests.

He said the current situation, where people with suspected coronavirus are tested when they are admitted to hospital will impact on the ability of the health service to cope with demand.

"We are calling for the testing hubs to be increased," Dr Dorman said. "Healthcare workers and their families should be tested. We are hearing from members who have a child who maybe has a high temperature and a cough and they have to take time off work to look after them.

"Quite often there are two doctors in a family, meaning that neither of them can go to work.

"One of the big things is that increasing the number of tests means that the laboratories are working really hard and ultimately they won't be able to do as many other routine tests.

"That will mean things like routine wound swabs or testing routine urinary samples, it will depend on the individual circumstances."

Dr Dorman said the establishment of primary care centres that focus on treating coronavirus patients will help ease the pressure throughout the health service.

"They will have GPs and orthopaedic surgeons working side-by-side," he continued.

"It will help shift a lot of work out of GP practices and out of the emergency departments as they are also being swamped at the moment."

Dr Dorman also said it is essential that people do not stockpile medication.

"We are asking that people only request their normal 28- or 56-day amount," he said.

"At the moment we are getting requests for inhalers from people who haven't used one for years, and they certainly don't need an inhaler because it isn't going to help them."

Health bosses are currently developing strategies to ensure the maximum number of health professionals are able to work as the NHS faces its greatest challenge.

Northern Ireland has a well-documented shortage of doctors, nurses and community pharmacists and all sectors are coming under increasing pressure as the number of people falling ill with coronavirus grows on a daily basis.

At the same time officials are working to increase the number of ICU beds and ventilators available to cater for the expected high number of people who fall seriously ill.

However, it has been warned that specialist trained staff will also be required to provide the expert care required.

Speaking at a drive-through coronavirus testing facility two weeks ago, the medical director of the Northern Trust warned they were planning for the possibility that 20% of workers could be off at any one time.

Belfast Telegraph