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Coronavirus: Vets could play vital role in intensive care, says Northern Ireland's Chief Veterinary Officer

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Vets could be asked to step in if there's a shortage of medical staff (Peter Byrne/PA)

Vets could be asked to step in if there's a shortage of medical staff (Peter Byrne/PA)

Vets could be asked to step in if there's a shortage of medical staff (Peter Byrne/PA)

Northern Ireland's Chief Veterinary Officer has said veterinarians could play a vital role in intensive care units during the coronavirus pandemic.

Robert Huey said Department of Agriculture officials have held discussions with the Public Health Agency about the role veterinarians could play as the NHS comes under further pressure.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has said staff were on standby if required.

He told a Stormont committee that they could be used to alleviate staffing pressures and help with some clinical roles.

Mr Huey said veterinarians offer a wide range of skills and could be used to assist in the use of ventilators for some of the sickest patients, having also informed Department of Health officials about the 22 ventilators the veterinary profession in Northern Ireland is able to provide.

"About 80% of human diseases actually come animals so there's a wide range of competencies and skills the veterinary profession can bring.

"Vets who are used to doing surgery and used to ventilating animals could use those same skills to monitor the well being of human patients. This is contingency planning and it's important that we do this."

It comes as health officials here revealed 175 non-invasive ventilators have been ordered to help treat coronavirus patients in respiratory failure.

"If there is a surge and if there is a deficiency of medical staff, the veterinary profession is ready and willing to do what we can to help," said Mr Huey.

Veterinarians would work under the supervision of a medical doctor if they were used in the health service, he said.

The Department of Agriculture is accustomed to dealing with outbreaks of viral disease and has also offered staff with experience in emergency planning and epidemiology to the Public Health Agency (PHA) to use their expertise in contact tracing and disease investigations.

"This work has just started and the PHA and ourselves were in discussions yesterday and again today. They are particularly keen that we could come and help.

"We have world renowned veterinary virologists in Northern Ireland who are literally sitting at home at the moment and it's a resource Northern Ireland could and should use," Mr Huey said.

The Chief Veterinary Officer has also spoken to vets who he said are willing to step forward.

"People will be willing to volunteer, the history of the veterinary profession is very clear on that," he said.

Belfast Telegraph