Robin Swann: Cancer patients may die because we will not turn away rising Covid patients

Cancer patients may die as a result of not turning away patients with Covid-19 from hospitals, the Northern Ireland Health Minister has admitted.

Friday, 13th November 2020, 6:24 pm
Updated Friday, 13th November 2020, 6:42 pm
Health Minister, Robin Swann.

Robin Swann said the “black and white” reality was that the health service would not turn away people with coronavirus requiring admission to hospital – but that other services were being cut as a consequence.

The Ulster Unionist MLA admitted that he was “heartbroken” that nurses and doctors were finding themselves having to make moral and ethical decisions between Covid patients and very sick patients with other conditions.

He added that these decisions “have to be made because of the fact that we have over 400 beds within our hospitals being used to support Covid-19 patients”.

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“The ethical decision is could we turn a Covid patient away? The answer is ‘no’,” Mr Swann told BBC Radio Ulster.

“So where we get the latitude in our current system on our current footprint with our current staff is by saying to other people, ‘sorry your operation, your scope, your diagnosis is going to have to be put off until we can safely accommodate you within the health service’.”

Asked to clarify that he was saying that a Covid patient will not be turned away but the result of the decision is that a cancer patient may die, Mr Swann replied: “Yeah, that is as black and white as it is.”

The North Antrim MLA added that the health service was being put under “additional strain” because they were trying to keep as many services running as possible unlike at the outset of the pandemic.

“In the first wave we downturned dramatically because we didn’t know what was front of us,” he said.

“This wave is actually higher. There are more inpatients, there are more people in ICU than we had in the first wave.

“Our health service is stepping up trying to keep as much as they possibly can running and going. That’s where those decisions are coming in day-to-day.”

The Stormont Executive agreed at the 11th hour on Thursday to extend circuit-breaker restrictions by one week.

The deal brought an end to the political deadlock over the exiting of the current coronavirus measures.

But Mr Swann said the extension was “not enough” and he believed he would be going back to the Executive either before Christmas or in the new year asking for more restrictions.

Last week he argued that an extension of two more weeks was needed.

“I wasn’t going to get that,” he said, adding “we will be coming back asking for more because we’re still seeing the pressures on our health service”.

He added that he was “disappointed” that the DUP did not support a longer extension.

“I’m disappointed that the DUP didn’t support that but look, we are where we are. What I’m asking is for that political support, that if we have to come back again, that the support will be there because we don’t ask for these things lightly.”

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