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Unvaccinated Covid patients and rising cases could force treatment cancellations in days, warns hospital chief

Get the jab, he says as most virus admissions unvaccinated


A nurse disinfects work surfaces at the Mater Hospital Covid-19 recovery ward in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

A nurse disinfects work surfaces at the Mater Hospital Covid-19 recovery ward in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

A nurse disinfects work surfaces at the Mater Hospital Covid-19 recovery ward in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

Northern Ireland’s hospitals could be just a week away from having to reduce non-Covid treatments and cancel operations as a result of rising cases of the virus in younger people.

The Belfast Trust medical director told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme that cases in hospitals were doubling on a weekly basis and almost 500 staff in the health service were off sick on Thursday due to Covid-19.

Dr Chris Hagan said 60% of patients admitted to hospital for Covid treatment were not vaccinated as he urged young people to take up the offer of a jab.

“We have been under pretty significant pressure in the Belfast Trust now for the past number of months with unscheduled care admissions. Over the past few weeks we have seen a rising number in Covid infections,” he said.

“For instance, in Belfast approximately a week ago there was about 1,100 infections within Belfast. That has risen now to 2,800 and that has been translated then into admissions into hospital.

“We have seen the number of admissions in Belfast double in the past week. We are seeing rising number of young patients. Over 60% of these patients are not vaccinated. That is a really key message here, the vaccination is so important to reduce admissions.

“We are planning at the minute for a doubling rate on a weekly basis. We have already taken steps to increase our bed capacity in the Mater Hospital to deal with a rising number of patients.

“We are taking steps to increase our intensive care capacity. The staff in Belfast have been amazing... but this is a tired workforce. We have also got a significant number of staff off due to covid related illness.”

On Thursday the Executive announced a number of “modest” relaxations to Northern Ireland's coronavirus restrictions.

The rising level of cases however prompted a delay in wider relaxations, with a meeting of ministers next week to discuss changes to rules around theatres and indoor gatherings.

Dr Chris Hagan said the increasing admissions into hospital risked seeing some non-Covid treatments cancelled and a rise in the numbers on waiting lists.

“Undoubtedly if it keeps rising at this rate it is going to have an impact on our ability to do the work we normally do,” he added.

“If we don’t have new or additional staff to manage Covid illness... we have to divert staff from other areas to treat these patients

“I think if the rates continue to rise as they are, next week we will more than likely have to take decisions to reduce some of our normal work and obviously that will then have an impact on waiting times, which is the last thing we want to do.

“Last week in Belfast there was nearly 1,400 20 to 39-year-olds who got Covid infection. Learning to live with Covid doesn’t mean pretending it doesn’t exist. Learning to live with Covid means getting vaccinated.”

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