Covid cases surge in Northern Ireland as chief scientific adviser warns of new wave

Vaccines will be the best line of defense as Covid cases rise again in Northern Ireland, the chief scientific adviser has said.

Professor Ian Young said he expects the increased transmission rates of the virus to become apparent in the coming weeks as he urged everyone eligible for flu and Covid vaccines to come forward for the shots.

The paramedic was speaking as senior doctors warned patients are dying awaiting treatment and the cancellation of surgeries is imminent due to mounting pressures in the system.

Concerns about the NHS’ ability to deal with the impact of a combination of flu and Covid-19 are growing, along with a £450million budget deficit, an absent Health Secretary and threats of industrial action by healthcare workers.

Speaking at a Department of Health briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Prof Young said wastewater analysis, Covid-19 case rates in inpatients and figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest the virus is on the rise again in Northern Ireland.


Stormont’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Ian Young

“I think all of these indicators are showing early signs of an increase in transmission and I strongly expect that to become evident over the next week or two,” he said.

“The publicly available numbers may look okay at the moment, but the leading indicators we are seeing at the moment are all pointing in one direction.

“The question will not be whether or not we have an increase in cases, the question will be – how big is this surge and its impact on further contributing to hospital pressures.

“The only big lever we have to dampen this down to try to reduce it is the vaccine booster program.”

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride reiterated hopes for high intakes of flu and Covid-19 vaccines in the coming months and urged people to adhere to public health guidance on face coverings indoors recall.

While so-called winter pressures have become commonplace throughout the year in the NHS, the situation has deteriorated in recent days, prompting senior medics to speak out.

dr Paul Kerr, vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Northern Ireland, said patients on trolleys are dying in emergency rooms as they face delays in treatment and admission to wards.

He said: “The situation is very serious and things are getting worse, so everyone is very worried.”

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Surgeons warned the cancellation of planned surgeries was imminent in a bid to free up beds and ease pressure on emergency rooms.

In response to the crisis, Health Secretary Robin Swann said attempts to alleviate the suffering of patients and staff are being hampered by the ongoing political instability in Stormont.

The UUP minister said he was “very aware” of the pressure the entire health and welfare system is under.

He continued, “Pressure that used to be felt during winter peaks is now a recurring theme throughout the year.

“This is not a problem unique to Northern Ireland. The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated healthcare systems already struggling under the weight of changing demographics, budget constraints and staffing challenges.

“All health and social care is focused on increasing post-pandemic activity levels to meet a larger proportion of the health and social care needs of the population.

“An important part of this is to mitigate the expected heavy pressures in the winter period by mobilizing available health and social care capacity.

“I have already announced steps to stabilize basic services ahead of winter pressures and will outline the overall plan in the near future.

“It’s important to be honest with the public – these issues are long-standing and there is no quick fix.

“We can all do our part. I urge everyone to use the Services appropriately.

“Get your Covid-19 and flu shots, if eligible, and cooperate with hospital discharge procedures to free up beds for others. Please support our amazing staff in any way you can.

“The longer-term challenge, as we all know, is to significantly increase the capacity of the system through investments in people and technology, as well as changing the way we deliver locksmith services.

“This task is certainly not helped by the continued lack of a budget for Northern Ireland and the significant projected overspending for my department.”

On Tuesday, Dr. Sandy Nelson, an emergency room physician at Altnagelvin Hospital, publicly acknowledged the pressure in the department where he works.

In a video posted online by the Western Trust, Dr. Nelson: “I’m one of the emergency medical technicians here at Altnagelvin Hospital.

“I’m in the ER right now, it’s October 4th, it’s noon, we have 110 patients in the department.

“I have 45 people waiting for a bed in the hospital.

“I have four ambulances waiting to be unloaded, which means they can’t go out into the community to look at the emergencies.

“There are only patients everywhere and we are fighting.

“If there is anything you can do to help us it would be greatly appreciated, whether it be coming to pick up your relatives as early as possible or closing the emergency room for absolute emergencies.

“We really are in an emergency and I am asking for your help at this time.”

Meanwhile, the Northern Trust said emergency departments at hospitals in its region were under “extreme pressure”.

The Trust tweeted: “EDs at Antrim Area & Causeway Hospitals remain under extreme pressure.

“Again, we ask for your help if you choose not to participate, unless your condition is urgent or life-threatening.

“Thank you for your attention and patience.”

And the Belfast Trust said: “Our emergency departments are exceptionally busy.

“Anyone visiting an emergency room with a non-urgent condition may have to wait a very long time to be seen.

“Please only go to an emergency department if your condition is urgent and requires immediate treatment.”

The South Eastern Trust tweeted that 135 patients were waiting at Ulster Hospital.

The Trust said: “The Ulster Hospital Emergency Department is under extreme pressure.

“There are 135 patients in our department, 50 are awaiting admission. Seriously ill patients are examined first.” Covid cases surge in Northern Ireland as chief scientific adviser warns of new wave

Fry Electronics Team

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