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Covid-19 crisis gives us a chance to reform our health system, says Robin Swann

Stormont Minister Robin Swann has said Covid-19 has presented Northern Ireland with an opportunity to improve its health system in the long term.

Mr Swann was addressing the Executive's daily media briefing on Tuesday as the last patient was discharged from Northern Ireland's Nightingale hospital.

The 230-bed facility in the tower block of Belfast City Hospital opened in April and treated 112 coronavirus patients during its time in operation.

Mr Swann warned against complacency around the virus and urged people to remember its "devastating impact".

He pointed to the latest figures from his department that the number of people who have died after testing positive for coronavirus here has risen to 489 after seven more deaths were reported on Tuesday.

Overall the UK-wide death toll has now surpassed 35,000 after a further 545 people died.

A further 16 people in the Republic have died from Covid-19, bringing the total number of deaths there to 1,561.

Mr Swann said the R number, the reproductive rate of the virus, is currently between 0.7 and 0.8 and he will be working to publish this figure on a weekly basis moving forward, "to see trends as to the steps that we've taken".

He said: "The messages I have repeated endlessly from the start of this emergency are just as urgent and just as crucial today. These messages are so important now that some changes to the lockdown restrictions have been announced.

"Please remember: social distancing remains a matter of life and death. We can ease things, just a little. The pressure and the isolation felt by so many can be reduced, albeit slightly. But we must not throw away that progress now."

Mr Swann announced the publication of a mental health action plan, including the introduction of specialist perinatal and child and adolescent services. He said the importance of mental health services had been brought into focus during the devastating impact of Covid-19.

Mr Swann also reiterated previous comments that a lack of underfunding in recent years had left the health service "in a very precarious state" and it must not return to the way it was before the pandemic.

He said difficult decisions will have to be made but warned that the ongoing presence of the coronavirus would mean there will be limits to what can be done in hospitals.

"This is not about closing hospitals and buildings, it's about re-prioritising and reinvigorating the health service we have so that we are delivering the services that people need.

"Keeping people safe means separating Covid care and non-Covid care, that has been likened to running two health services in parallel with each other. This all amounts to a huge logistical challenge. It will require time, patience and ongoing funding," Mr Swann added.

He said health trusts have been tasked with developing service rebuilding plans and that there can "be no return to the way we were in December 2019", adding: "Why should we aspire to return to a structure that was widely accepted to be flawed?"

Belfast Telegraph