A very difficult winter lies ahead for the Northern Ireland health service says chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride

Sir Michael McBride issued the warning to the Stormont Health Committee due to rising Covid-19 cases and a return of other respiratory viruses.

Thursday, 19th August 2021, 5:31 pm

He said: “It feels like the middle of the winter at this present moment in time. If you’re in discussion with our frontline staff, you will know that.”

He added that patients are presenting with complications as a result of being unable to access care when they needed it because of “excessive wait lists”.

He said: “If you then imagine potentially 400 to 600 Covid admissions on top of that by late summer into September time, then you can imagine the perfect storm of additional pressures.”

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A nurse works on a patient in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit)

Chief scientific officer Professor Ian Young told the committee current estimates are that between 1-2% of the population in Northern Ireland have Covid-19.

While Wednesday saw the highest daily death toll (11) since February, Prof Young said the peak of the number of deaths may not be for another couple of weeks.

Earlier in the meeting, chief nursing officer Charlotte McArdle described the pressure on the system as “immense”.

Hospital occupancy rates exceed 100% - further Covid-19 deaths reportedShe said: “We’ve moved from one surge to another and at the same time tried to keep a very finely balanced system going, and this has meant things have really had to change dramatically and regretfully for patients that has been difficult… but it’s also very difficult for staff because they want to deliver the best care and the best outcome that they can and it’s frustrating for them to see their services change and have to reprioritise and reschedule services.

“I think nurses and midwives in particular are very pressurised and have been during the pandemic but at the moment in particular, they’ve kept the system going and every time there needs to be another change or another ask it’s the nurses and midwives that are asked to make that change.

“They are of course supported by all of their professional colleagues and very grateful for the intervention of other disciplines… but staff are very tired and when people are tired, morale often drops, sickness rises as we’ve seen and people do start to think about and re-evaluate their own personal lives, and I think we’re starting to see that in the health service, particularly in the nursing and midwifery groups.”

On Thursday, nine further deaths of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland as well as 1,963 new confirmed cases of the virus.

There were 379 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 46 in intensive care.

A total of 2,389,725 vaccines have been administered in Northern Ireland.

Around 86% of adults have had at least one dose of the vaccine while just over 77% are fully vaccinated.

This weekend will see mass vaccination centres offer walk-in first jabs for all adults on top of ongoing vaccinations at mobile clinics and participating community pharmacies.