Northern Ireland health service ‘at significant risk’ of being overwhelmed by staff absences and increased coronavirus patient numbers

The health service in Northern Ireland is at “significant risk” of becoming overwhelmed by a “double whammy” of increased patient numbers and staff absences, a leading doctor has said.
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Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Northern Ireland committee, said that despite studies showing the omicron variant resulting in severe illness less frequently than previous variants the sheer number of infections is still likely to lead to an increase in patient numbers.

Speaking to the News Letter, he warned that the most intense pressure is likely to bear on hospitals at the end of the month.

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“I think it’s reasonable to say that we would expect the numbers of cases to increase in the over-60s, and we’ve already seen an increase in those numbers,” he said.

Dr Tom Black said NI hospitals are likely to come under most severe pressure at the end of JanuaryDr Tom Black said NI hospitals are likely to come under most severe pressure at the end of January
Dr Tom Black said NI hospitals are likely to come under most severe pressure at the end of January

“Once we see an increase in the over-60s, the big concern then is that results in an increase in patients going into hospital. We would expect to see that now in the coming week. We will certainly see an increase in the numbers going into hospital.

“The modelling has all shown that this omicron wave will peak in the second and third week in January.”

He continued: “There are far more people infected with omicron than in previous waves. Even if a smaller percentage of people are going into hospital, a smaller percentage of a larger number can still create a lot of pressure for the hospital system.

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“The BMA modelling, before Christmas, was for 10% of healthcare workers absent through infection and an additional 15% out through isolation. That certainly would be consistent with the numbers we’re hearing from London and the south of England, who are probably a week or so ahead of us. That’s awful timing, because this is the very time we need all our staff to be at work. But it can’t be helped because you can’t send healthcare workers in who are infected.

“The effect that has is a double-whammy because we expect far more patients and we’re also seeing healthcare workers being out in large numbers. It shows that the health service is at a significant risk of being overwhelmed. With the lag period we’re likely to see the full force at the end of January.”

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