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Coronavirus: Health officials urged to disclose how many Northern Ireland staff displaying symptoms

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Staff outside Belfast City Hospital's tower block, which is Northern Ireland's first Nightingale Hospital, hold a short event at 8.00pm on Thursday April 16 to recognise and acknowledge the public support during a Clap for Blue Light Services. Photo by Kelvin Boyes  / Press Eye.

Staff outside Belfast City Hospital's tower block, which is Northern Ireland's first Nightingale Hospital, hold a short event at 8.00pm on Thursday April 16 to recognise and acknowledge the public support during a Clap for Blue Light Services. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Staff outside Belfast City Hospital's tower block, which is Northern Ireland's first Nightingale Hospital, hold a short event at 8.00pm on Thursday April 16 to recognise and acknowledge the public support during a Clap for Blue Light Services. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Health officials are facing pressure to disclose the number of staff who are self-isolating due to coronavirus.

The Department of Health has been unable to confirm how many workers have been off work because they are displaying symptoms of Covid-19.

Health workers also have to stay at home if they share a household with someone known or suspected to have the virus.

Last month it emerged the Belfast Health Trust is down 10% of its workforce due to Covid-19 precautions. It has also been reported that the Southern Trust, as of mid-April, had 838 workers off duty due to the pandemic.​ It has around 14,700 employees.

The Department of Health, however, has been unable to provide Northern Ireland-wide figures despite repeated requests by this newspaper.​

The Health and Social Care Board referred the query to the health department.​

A DoH spokesperson said the delay was due to each of the health trusts giving it clearance to release the information.​

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last month that around 100,000 NHS employees were off work due to showing symptoms of the coronavirus.​ In March, the Royal College of Physicians revealed that one in four GPs in the UK had been forced to self-isolate.​

Former Health Minister Jim Wells said it was in the public interest to release the figures.​

"We need to know how high the instance is (of Covid-19) in the sector," he said.​

"We've got 70,000 people working for the health service here and that's the state end of things, and heaven knows how many in the private sector.​

"That's the area that we need to know exactly how many are off work, how many are self-isolating. How many have developed symptoms and how many then have subsequently developed full blown Covid-19."​

He continued: "That is an absolutely essential statistic because unfortunately they are the people most likely to get the virus. Those people who are putting themselves at risk by going in treating and caring for people who are potentially carriers."​

The South Down MLA said authorities should release the information as soon as possible.​

He added: "There shouldn't be a delay in this. There is nothing to be gained from withholding the information from the public, because if you don't give it out, then people start to get suspicious."​

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath, who sits on the Stormont Health Committee, also called for the figures to be released.

"One thing is clear from this and many other virus and pandemics of the past - it is clear scrutiny of the facts, the trends and the figures that assist in getting us out of the clutches of it. That is why we have asked for testing and community tracing too," he said.​

"Knowing how many staff are off with the illness and charting where those who are self-isolating is critically important in helping us to see trends and address them if needed.

"This would be a basic record to keep and I hope that trusts are doing this."

Belfast Telegraph