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Coronavirus: Some 999 crews in Northern Ireland wearing specialist suits during callouts to at-risk people

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Workers wearing personal protective equipment

Workers wearing personal protective equipment

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Workers wearing personal protective equipment

Paramedics are now wearing specialist protective equipment to some calls in a bid to slow down the spread of coronavirus.

The move comes as officials step up the measures being put in place to reduce the chance of cross-contamination between people.

Ambulance crews have been instructed to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to patients with severe respiratory illness, those who have travelled to a high-risk country and anyone who has been in close contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19.

This means they will wear PPE to patients who have conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) or asthma, or patients complaining of shortness of breath.

The move will help to alleviate the concerns of at-risk groups such as elderly people living with COPD, as well as Northern Ireland Ambulance Service staff who are in close contact with numerous people during a shift.

Health officials have previously said they are planning for the possibility that up to 20% of NHS staff may be off at any one time if there is a surge in coronavirus cases.

This could be as a result of workers falling ill themselves or in the event of having to self-isolate or stay at home to care for someone who is unwell with the virus.

One of the main aims of the containment phase of the response to the coronavirus pandemic is to reduce the likelihood of a surge of cases.

Northern Ireland's health service is already under severe pressure and there are concerns that it will be unable to cope with a sharp increase in people needing hospital treatment.

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Northern Health Trust’s Seamus O’Reilly

Northern Health Trust’s Seamus O’Reilly

Northern Health Trust’s Seamus O’Reilly

Last week Seamus O'Reilly, medical director at the Northern Health Trust, said: "We're looking at intensive care capacity across all of the trusts, it's part of the forward planning we are doing.

"It's not as simple as purchasing 60 extra intensive care beds, you need specifically trained staff to work in intensive care, so if you don't have the staff, you can't open the beds.

"We are preparing for the worst case scenario and hopefully we will never get to that stage, but it may mean doctors having to prioritise which patients get an ICU bed.

"That may be a decision we have to make a bit further down the line as part of the pandemic plan.

"Hopefully that won't happen because the clinicians won't want to have to make that decision, because it will be difficult for them ethically.

"The system is already under significant pressure, so we may also see the likes of outpatient appointments and elective surgeries being affected if there is a surge in coronavirus cases."

A spokeswoman from the Health & Social Care Board last night said surge plans are in the final stage of completion and further details will be issued next week.

She continued: "Depending on the pressures in the system, trusts may have to consider postponing routine elective appointments and surgeries to focus on the immediate demands associated with coronavirus.

"In primary care, there are plans being developed to ensure that GPs and community pharmacists are able to respond effectively to the anticipated increased demand that will arise if coronavirus spreads within the wider community."

An NIAS spokesman said: "NIAS is following the clinical guidance provided nationally for ambulance crews responding to patients who are at risk of having a coronavirus infection.

"We have therefore instructed crews attending patients who have evidence of severe respiratory illness or who are a risk because of recent travel to one of the declared at-risk countries, or who have been in close contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19, to wear the appropriate level of protective equipment which includes a mask, an apron and gloves as a minimum.

"This is aimed at reducing the risk of cross-infection to our staff, other patients and the public in general."

Belfast Telegraph