Northern Ireland’s health minister has said he “doesn’t know” what the system will look like in a week’s time.
Robin Swann and the region’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride were questioned by MLAs about increasing coronavirus testing, procuring more protective equipment for healthcare staff and ventilators.
The minister responded by saying the focus is currently on getting front line support to those people suffering from coronavirus.
Ten people had died in Northern Ireland after testing positive for Covid-19, the Public Health Agency announced on Thursday.
In its daily update, it said testing had resulted in 32 new positive cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the region to 241.
Earlier, the Department of Health announced new plans for coping with the coronavirus surge, which included prioritising patient care, urgently discharging all medically fit patients and reconfiguring hospital services.
General visiting has also been stopped, with exceptions in place for one visitor for admitted children, mothers giving birth, children in intensive care, critical care areas and end-of-life care.
Department has today issued updated hospital visiting guidance, meaning general hospital visiting has stopped.— Department of Health (@healthdpt) March 26, 2020
Further info on the exceptions that will applyâ¬ï¸â¬ï¸https://t.co/zUvj0kL4hl pic.twitter.com/WB3cb0KaEx
The department’s permanent secretary Richard Pengelly wrote to staff about the plans.
He warned that even if social distancing helped flatten the curve of the surge, the health service was still likely to require more critical care capacity than was currently available.
“In some cases, it is recognised that this may mean that other services are temporarily reduced as the focus is on providing essential services and helping those most at risk access the best possible treatment,” Mr Pengelly wrote.
“It is therefore suggested that clinicians should begin to categorise patients into priority groups. The lowest prioritisation would be where treatment can be delayed for two to three months with no predicted negative outcome. Urgent and emergency treatments should continue to be given top priority.”
I don’t know what the health service will look like in a week’s time. The surge plans are in place to do what we have to doRobin Swann, health minister
On Thursday morning, Stormont’s health committee chairman Colm Gildernew asked the minister about plans for community testing sites.
Mr Swann said: “We’re not at a point where we are going to open community testing sites.
“We’re getting front line support to those people presenting with that mid-range symptom of Covid-19,” he said, adding: “we’re not at that stage yet as we don’t have that capacity”.
Dr McBride said next week the health service will be testing 1,100 people per day.
He told the committee that there have been discussions about making community testing available at a later stage.
Mr Swann also told the committee that there are 650 ventilators “currently on their way” to Northern Ireland.
“I don’t know what the health service will look like in a week’s time,” he added.
“The surge plans are in place to do what we have to do.
“To give any sort of commitment now that we will return 100% to where we were two months ago – I can’t give it. I won’t give it, because I can’t stand over it.”