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Coronavirus: Northern Ireland NHS chiefs call on private hospitals to provide help

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Access: Mark Regan

Access: Mark Regan

Access: Mark Regan

Health bosses in Northern Ireland have appealed to private hospitals to help them in the fight to save lives during the coronavirus crisis.

They have contacted the largest independent providers in Northern Ireland with the aim of increasing the number of hospital beds, operating theatres and ventilators available to treat patients.

The move will see an additional 400 staff, 11 operating theatres, 100 hospital beds, three MRI scanners, two CT scanners and around 15 anaesthetic machines available for the health service in the coming months.

The anaesthetic machines can also be used as ventilators if required, although they are not designed for long-term use.

It is feared that a lack of ventilators in Northern Ireland could force doctors to ration intensive care beds.

The life-saving equipment has proven to play a vital role in helping patients critically ill with coronavirus recover.

However, it is thought that in the first instance, the private clinics and their staff will treat patients who do not have Covid-19 and who require urgent treatment and diagnostic tests.

No final agreement has been put in place as the Department of Health has said contracts must be put in place first.

However, the CEO of Kingsbridge Private Hospital in south Belfast, Mark Regan, has said time is of the essence.

He said: "We are no longer living in normal times and won't be for the coming months.

"The matter of fees should not be a distraction to any of this.

"We are offering full access to the hospital on a cost recovery basis, therefore on a non-profit basis.

"This is the right thing to do and Kingsbridge will work with the utmost integrity and tenacity to support the health service as we have done for the last 15 years."

Hospitals, GP surgeries and pharmacists across Northern Ireland have come under increasing pressure in the last couple of weeks as demand for services has increased.

Family doctors have been the first point of contact for most people displaying coronavirus symptoms.

They have also played an important role in offering reassurance and advice to some of the most at-risk and vulnerable members of society.

Meanwhile, GPs have also been swamped by repeat prescription requests by patients keen to stockpile medication.

The demand on community pharmacies has also soared and people can now expect to wait up to three hours outside their high street chemist to collect vital medication.

Specialist community centres are due to open this week where patients thought to be suffering from coronavirus can go for treatment. The idea behind the community hubs, which will be staffed by GPs and hospital doctors, is that they will reduce the pressure on GP surgeries and emergency departments.

They will also enable the health service to concentrate resources, such as personal protective equipment, on fewer sites.

At the moment, GPs are having to allocate at least half an hour to any patient with a cough or fever and they must be seen in special rooms that have to be deep cleaned after the consultation.

Belfast Telegraph