Northern Ireland’s health minister has paid tribute to health staff, saying they have “moved mountains” to prepare for the expected surge in coronavirus cases.
Robin Swann wrote to workers on the frontline ahead of the “expected Covid-19 surge” in Northern Ireland in the coming days.
In an open letter, Mr Swann thanked staff for their commitment and passion in tackling the Covid-19 crisis.
He made the comments as it emerged that the number of people with coronavirus who have died in a hospital setting in Northern Ireland had risen to 118, with 11 further deaths reported on Sunday.
There were 89 new cases of the virus, bringing the total of confirmed positive tests in the region since the outbreak began to 1,806, officials said.
Mr Swann said: “I am very aware of the incredible work pressures you are already under and that you are facing in the immediate future with a mixture of determination, deep anxiety and great pride in the work you and your colleagues are doing.
“Let me assure you that everyone across Northern Ireland is proud of you all.
“I have personally known for many years just how skilled, committed and, above all, compassionate our health and social care staff are.
“Many families across Northern Ireland will have experiences similar to mine, stories that involve staff from all parts of the system going the extra mile day after day to deliver the care that patients need.”
We have trained hundreds of staff in new roles. We have increased our workforce. We have moved mountains.Robin Swann
He said that the health system has trebled its critical care capacity and freed up almost half of the bed stock.
“We have trained hundreds of staff in new roles. We have increased our workforce. We have moved mountains,” Mr Swann added.
“We have all seen the reports from Italy and Spain. We have seen the severe impact this virus can have on society.
“However, there are some indications that the peak here may potentially be less severe impact than at one time we had feared.
“It would seem that the Northern Ireland people have risen to the challenge and that social distancing has reduced the impact of this virus – in this wave.
“We cannot be certain about this – no modelling can predict the future – but we can acknowledge that the unprecedented social distancing restrictions on all our lives are starting to make an impact.
“Obviously, there are no grounds whatsoever for complacency across our community.
“We cannot undo the efforts made to date. We all have to dig deep and keep doing the right thing – staying at home, saving lives and protecting the health service.
“We also know that there will be very difficult times ahead, particularly for those of you working on the frontline.”
He said that because of the actions of health staff, people will live who might otherwise have died.
“There is nothing more important than this,” he concluded.