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Demand in Northern Ireland emergency departments ‘on a par’ with winter says Robin Swann

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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Emergency departments in Northern Ireland are experiencing levels of demand “on a par” with what is expected in winter, according to the Health Minister Robin Swann.

Mr Swann said while Covid-19 had added to the demand, he said the system is “struggling to cope” as a result of a number of combined pressures, including issues that have been “building up for years”.

The Health Minister also referenced reports of “aggressive and abusive behaviour towards some staff” working in emergency departments across Northern Ireland.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

Mr Swann’s comments come as Northern Ireland records another 417 positive Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours. No further deaths were announced by the Department of Health on Tuesday, meaning the death toll remains at 2,156.

There has been 2,883 positive cases in the last week, up from 1,700 in the previous seven days, while hospital occupancy is at 104% with 3,193 people in beds.

Referring to the significant pressures in hospitals, Robin Swann urged the public to continue to support health and social care staff.

The Health Minister said: “The current level of pressure is at least on a par with what is normally experienced in winter. There are a number of interlinked factors behind this situation.

“Our health and social care system was fragile before the pandemic and the last 18 months have inflicted untold damage. The truth is that the system as a whole is struggling to cope with current levels of demand for care. This is severely impacting emergency departments, GP services, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and other areas.

“It is leading in many cases to long and distressing waiting times for patients. That is a deeply regrettable state of affairs. I would appeal to the public to support and work with staff as they deal with this unprecedented and deeply frustrating situation."

Mr Swann said hospitals were being impacted by a number of factors, including: limits on capacity due to Covid-19 social distancing measures, the workload on staff delivering the vaccination programme and people coming forward with mental health conditions and other health conditions that have developed during lockdown.

The Health Minister also referenced the “trauma and exhaustion” staff are under and condemned reports of abuse directed towards them.

“I am deeply concerned at reports of aggressive and abusive behaviour towards some staff. Staff understand the frustrations of the public. Indeed, they share them. So do I,” he added.

"Staff have not created the current situation, nor can they flick a switch and fix them. Despite the trauma and exhaustion caused by Covid, staff are working relentlessly to treat the sickest people quickest. Please respect them and help them do their jobs in these extremely difficult conditions.

“Some of the causes of the current situation in our health service have been building up for years. I am determined to address these. In recent weeks, I have published roadmaps for tackling our waiting list crisis and rebuilding cancer services, and a 10-year Mental Health Strategy.

"I continue to make the case for sustained and substantial investment in health and I believe this has strong support around the Executive table.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Health have introduced a summer “Stay Well” campaign to encourage the public to “look after themselves and others”.

"This includes simple steps like ordering repeat prescriptions well in advance of any public holidays. This can help reduce pressures on GP and GP out of hours services,” the Department said.

“If you feel unwell, there are a range of healthcare services available to help you. These range from self-care/pharmacy for minor ailments; GP services; Minor Injury Units and Emergency Services. Self-care is the best choice to treat minor illnesses, ailments and injuries.

"A range of common illnesses such as sunburn, hay-fever, aches and pains, coughs, colds, upset stomachs and sore throats can be treated with over the counter medicines and plenty of rest. Remember, whether treated or not, most of these will get better.

“To be clear, if your case is an emergency, then you should go to a hospital Emergency Department without delay.”

They added the public should continue to come forward for Covid-19 tests if they develop symptoms of the virus, while they encouraged everyone to continue to get vaccinated.​​​​​​ over the summer months​


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