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Former Maze prison site could host coronavirus field hospital – First Minister

Technical assessments are under way at Balmoral Park on the outskirts of Lisburn ahead of potentially hosting a step down hospital facility.

The former Maze prison site could host Northern Ireland’s coronavirus field hospital, the First Minister has said.

Arlene Foster said the region will be following the Scottish approach to field hospitals as step down facilities rather than housing intensive care beds.

“The health minister has been looking at a number of sites, he intends first of all to flex up his own estate that he has in relation to intensive care beds but as the virus takes hold he believes it will be necessary to expand his hospital estate,” she said.

The former Maze prison has been transformed into Balmoral Park which includes a modern exhibition centre space
The former Maze prison has been transformed into Balmoral Park which includes a modern exhibition centre space (PA)

“The model will be similar to that of Scotland, so the intensive care beds will not be in the field hospital but the step down will be in the field hospital.”

At the leaders’ daily Covid-19 press briefing at Stormont on Tuesday, Mrs Foster described field hospitals as “not tents”, but located in exhibition centres similar to the Nightingale Hospital in London.

“Some of the sites that are being looked at include Balmoral Park and places like that,” she said.

“He (health minister) is doing technical assessments on that at this present moment in time.

“He will come to a decision on that in the near future.”

Military personnel at the ExCel centre in London which is being made into a temporary hospital
Military personnel at the ExCel centre in London which is being made into a temporary hospital (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Earlier on Tuesday the Public Health Agency said there had been six deaths of people who tested positive for Covid-19 since the last update on Monday, bringing the total in the region to 28.

In total 5,885 tests have been carried out in Northern Ireland, with the vast majority negative.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she believes more testing needs to be done.

“I subscribe to the World Health Organisation’s approach, I subscribe to the European evidence, that’s the approach that I believe we should be following and their evidence clearly says that we should be doing more testing, we should be isolating and tracing, I want us to get to that point and I am going to continue to work with executive colleagues to make sure that we get to that point,” she said.

Earlier a professor at the University of Bristol said the island of Ireland needs to work as one unit in the fight against coronavirus.

Gabriel Scally warned there was a risk of squandering the geographical advantage of living on an island because of different health policies either side of the border.

The disease does not stop at a borderMichelle O'Neill

Mrs Foster responded: “I am very content that I take my advice on science and what we need to do from our chief medical officer, who has access to the modelling in the UK and WHO and who is in very close contact with the chief medical officer in the Republic of Ireland.”

Mrs O’Neill said she favoured close co-operation.

“The disease does not stop at a border,” she said.

“We live on one island and it is important that we co-operate and collaborate as much as we can as we go through a public health emergency.”

PA