Category Archives: COVID-19

Joint Statement by the Chief Executives of Northern Ireland’s Six Health and Social Care Trusts

“In early December 2020 we issued what we described at the time as ‘a stark warning’ about huge pressures across the health and social care system in Northern Ireland.

“At that time we stressed that several of Northern Ireland’s acute hospitals were already operating beyond capacity. Within days, the pressure that the system was under was evident through the images shown across media outlets of multiple ambulances queuing outside Emergency Departments. We also highlighted that there was a very real risk that hospitals could be overwhelmed in the event of a further COVID-19 spike in January.

“Although different parts of the country are in different stages of the third COVID-19 surge, and individual hospitals are reflecting this, the situation is very serious with modelling projections indicating that in the third week in January we will be trying to contend with double the number of COVID positive patients compared to the current position today, when several hospitals already have record numbers of patients.

“This is not a simple matter of putting up more beds. We need the staff to care for the increased number of patients. Pre-existing staffing pressures and staff absence because of COVID, and other reasons, mean that those staff simply aren’t there.

“Already several Trusts are having to stand down all but the most urgent elective surgery, including some red-flag cancer surgery, to redeploy staff to meet the urgent and immediate needs of extremely ill patients, especially both COVID and non-COVID patients needing ICU care. These postponed operations will be rescheduled as soon as possible. We have established a regional approach to ensure that any available theatre capacity across Northern Ireland is allocated for those patients most in need of surgery, both during surge and as we come out of this surge. This may mean that patients will need to travel further for their surgery. Cancer services are seeking to maintain chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other non-surgical treatments and alternative treatments will be provided in the absence of surgical options.

“We know that we speak for all health and social care staff in assuring the public that we will do everything that we possibly can to deal with the situation that is unfolding. Our staff, although exhausted, will once more go above and beyond to do the best they can for as many people as possible, and we thank them for it. It will definitely not be easy and the care that we are able to provide will at times fall short of the high standards we normally deliver but we will do our very best. Desperately ill patients whether COVID or non-COVID will always be the ones being prioritised.

“No-one should be attending an Emergency Department at any time unless they need emergency care. It is likely that those who do attend will wait longer to be seen and for admission to hospital if that is what they require. Patients arriving by ambulance will also wait at times, sometimes for many hours before space is available in an already over-stretched ED. This has a direct impact on the ability of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to respond, in a timely manner, to life threatening emergencies in the community.

“Patients also need to leave hospital as soon as they are medically fit to leave. We will work tirelessly to ensure that this happens. That might mean accepting a placement where it is available and it might also mean families having to go the extra mile to provide temporary support for relatives. But we will need every bed that we have for those that are most in need.

“Pressure in one part of the health and social care system inevitably impacts on the other parts. For example, we might once again need families to be willing to fill unavoidable gaps in domiciliary care.

“Never has the phrase ‘all in it together’ been so pertinent and just so important. The COVID-19 vaccines provide the long-term hope and the current lockdown offers the opportunity to shorten the duration of the current surge. The public can play their part too by staying at home, practising social distancing and good hand hygiene and wearing face coverings.

“We thank you in advance for your assistance.”

Michael Bloomfield
Chief Executive
NIAS Trust     

Shane Devlin
Chief Executive
Southern Health and Social Care Trust

Cathy Jack
Chief Executive
Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Anne Kilgallen
Chief Executive
Western Health and Social Care Trust 

Seamus McGoran
Chief Executive
South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust   

Jennifer Welsh
Chief Executive
Northern Health and Social Care Trust            


Joint statement by the Chief Executives of Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Trusts

The Chief Executives of the six Health and Social Care Trusts have issued a stark warning about unbearable pressures across the system in Northern Ireland, in the event of a probable further COVID-19 spike in early January.

“Several of Northern Ireland’s acute hospitals are already operating beyond capacity and flow through hospitals has been seriously impacted by required restrictions as a result of COVID-19. Add pre-existing staffing pressures and staff absence due to COVID-19 infection, or the need to self-isolate, and there is a very real risk that hospitals will be overwhelmed in the event of a further COVID-19 spike in January.

“We are not making this point lightly and as a result, we are appealing to the public to be extremely cautious over the festive period and to take all necessary precautions to stop the virus spreading.

“On behalf of all of our colleagues in health and social care, we can’t stress enough how extremely grateful we are to the people of Northern Ireland for all the sacrifices they have made in 2020, in response to this pandemic.

“There has been a massive effort across society to combat the COVID-19 threat and many lives have undoubtedly been saved.

“We really need to maintain that collective spirit as the health service faces into its most difficult time of the year. We all want to relax, we all need to relax, over the Christmas period but that does not mean that we can ease up on our efforts to prevent COVID-19 spreading further.

“The needs of those waiting for operations and other treatments also continue to weigh heavily on our minds. Rising numbers of COVID cases, hospital admissions and ICU admissions mean there will be ongoing restricted capacity for non-COVID care. But unfortunately staff simply cannot do two jobs at the same time. The best way to protect non-COVID care is to push down COVID infections.

“We are also collectively placing on record our thanks and deep appreciation to all of our staff. There are no words to properly describe the incredible resilience, professionalism and compassion that we continue to witness every day from staff who are exhausted, physically and mentally, and traumatised as a result of this pandemic. This has been the most challenging year of their lives and we pay tribute to them all. Of course many staff will also be working over the holiday period and we give special thanks to them.

“All staff certainly deserve downtime with their families over the festive season. And they are entitled to enjoy Christmas without a feeling of dread about what they will be facing by the New Year.

“2021 can be a year of hope for us all as the vaccine programme rolls out over the course of many months. However, we first have to get through what we now face for the remainder of this winter period.

“Please play your part this Christmas and take no risks whatsoever in terms of actions that by now we all know will increase the spread of the virus. It is extremely infectious but it doesn’t move itself, people move it. We all can and must remember that.”

Michael Bloomfield
Chief Executive
NIAS Trust     

Shane Devlin
Chief Executive
Southern Health and Social Care Trust

Cathy Jack
Chief Executive
Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Anne Kilgallen
Chief Executive
Western Health and Social Care Trust 

Seamus McGoran
Chief Executive
South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust   

Jennifer Welsh
Chief Executive
Northern Health and Social Care Trust            

COVID-19 Surge plans

The Department of Health released further details of surge plans on Friday 3 April.  These focus on a reconfiguration of paediatric and maternity services.

The Northern Trust has, over recent weeks, been engaged both regionally and locally as part of a HSC system effort in planning for an anticipated surge in patients becoming ill with COVID-19 infection across Northern Ireland. It is recognised from worldwide and UK national data that children are on average relatively mildly affected by COVID infection and will therefore require only a small proportion of the overall population demand for hospital treatment; conversely the need for adult hospital beds is likely to be significantly higher than the supply currently available.

As a result a region-wide plan has been developed to implement a temporary reconfiguration of inpatient paediatric and maternity services in response to COVID-19 surge. This plan has been regionally agreed and aims to consolidate inpatient services for women and children in the Northern Trust.  Our plan centres on pooling staffing to ensure continued provision of safe, high quality care across both maternity and paediatric services.

As part of this regional plan within the Northern Trust, the inpatient paediatric ward at Causeway Hospital will temporarily close to admissions with effect from Thursday 9 April 2020. Children requiring a hospital stay will be managed in the Children’s Ward of Antrim Area Hospital. Children’s short stay assessments will still take place in Causeway Hospital Monday to Friday 9am -10pm and Saturday and Sunday 12-6pm.

Due to the changes outlined in paediatric cover in Causeway Hospital, we have taken a decision to temporarily change the maternity services offered on the Causeway Hospital site.  As an interim measure all inpatient maternity services will now be provided at Antrim Area Hospital.  This includes any unscheduled attendances for pregnancy concerns, for labour and birth (this includes caesarean sections) and postnatal stay.  The Causeway Maternity Unit will continue to provide outpatient antenatal care Monday to Friday 9am-5pm. Community midwifery across the Trust continues in the antenatal and postnatal period.

Staff will be redeployed as necessary within the Trust to support reconfigured services.

Inpatient paediatric wards in Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry and the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) in Enniskillen will also close in what is step one of the five-step regional plan. The temporary reconfiguration will free up to 130 bed spaces during extreme surge in acute hospitals across the region. Around 50 adult bed spaces could be made available in the coming days when step one is implemented, approximately 13 of which would be in Causeway Hospital.

There may subsequently be further consolidation of paediatric inpatient services onto fewer sites in a step-wise fashion, depending on daily review of hospital demand across the region and ongoing staff availability (for further details see the DOH press release ‘Plans in Place to Protect Children’s and Maternity Services’, dated 03 April 2020).

Please note that as of Thursday 9 April, Paediatric support will only be available in Causeway Hospital from 9am – 9pm Monday to Friday and 12 Noon – 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays.  There will be no on-site paediatricians outside of these times so anyone with concerns should contact GP Out of Hours or attend the Emergency Department at Antrim Area Hospital.


Earlier surge plans

Surge Plans Friday 27 March 2020

How can I protect myself?

Everyone should do what they can to stop coronavirus spreading and that includes social distancing.

Social distancing will help reduce the transmission of coronavirus by reducing the social interaction between people.

You should:
•Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus – these symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough;
•avoid non-essential use of public transport, varying your travel times to avoid rush hour, when possible
•work from home, where possible – your employer should support you to do this.
•avoid large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs
•avoid gatherings with friends and family – keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media
•use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services.

Everyone should be trying to follow these measures as much as possible.

We strongly advise you to follow the above measures and to significantly limit your face-to-face interaction with friends and family if possible, particularly if you:
•are over 70;
•have an underlying health condition;
•are pregnant.

This advice is likely to be in place for some weeks.


Self-distancing for vulnerable groups

The Government has advised that anyone who is at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus should be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures.

For more information see COVID-19: guidance on social distancing and for vulnerable people


Preventing the Spread of infection

Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds

Use hand sanitizer where washing facilities are not available

Use a tissue after you cough or sneeze; cover your mouth and nose, throw it away carefully after use and wash your hands – Catch It, Bin It, Kill It

Sneeze into your elbow if you do not have a tissue

Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the home

Keep your social distance from others

Watch this video about proper hand washing technique from the Public Health Agency

British Sign Language version

Irish Sign Language version

I think I have coronavirus

The latest advice for COVID-19 / Coronavirus was issued on Monday 16 March by the Public Health Agency.   If you have either:

  • a high temperature (fever) – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back or a thermometer reads 37.8 degrees C or higher
  • a new, continuous cough – this means you’ve recently started coughing repeatedly

Stay at home for 7 days.  After seven days you can return to normal activities as long as you do not have a high temperature (fever);

After 7 days:

  • if you do not have a high temperature, you do not need to stay at home
  • if you still have a high temperature, stay at home until your temperature returns to normal
  • You do not need to stay at home if you just have a cough after 7 days. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

If you live with other people, they should stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person got symptoms. This is because it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear.

  • If more than 1 person at home has symptoms, stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person started having symptoms.
  • If you get symptoms, stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms start, even if it means you’re at home for longer than 14 days.
  • If you do not get symptoms, you can stop staying at home after 14 days.

You may find this graphic helpful in explaining isolation for family members.

Travel and contact history are no longer part of the case definition and people are advised not to go to their GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

You can ring NHS 111 for information or advice and they will help you decide if you need to contact your GP.

Calling your GP is only necessary if you have:

  • An existing health condition
  • problems with your immune system
  • very serious symptoms

More information and guidance about staying at home has been made available.

If it is a medical emergency and you need to call an ambulance, dial 999 and inform the operator of your symptoms.

Trust services affected

***Please note staff may call from a withheld number, if you think it could be us please pick up***

As health and social care divert resources to care for Coronavirus patients, health service activity across Northern Ireland will be significantly curtailed.

Antrim Area Hospital: Relocation of Outpatients 4
Community and voluntary support (Community Navigators)
Critical Care Services
Day Care Centre closures
Dementia Care
Domiciliary Care
Health Visiting Services
Inpatient Paediatric Services
Learning Disability Day and Short Break Services
Maternity Services
Northern Adult Autism Advice Service
Podiatry Service – Emergency Diabetes Foot Care
Pregnancy Helplines and Information
Screening Programmes: Temporary Pause
The Rowan (Regional Sexual Assault Referral Centre)

For more details regarding all our services, please refer to our A-Z Guide to services.

Cancellation of elective procedures and clinics

This will be kept under review but has involved the cancellation of some non-urgent elective procedures.  Anyone impacted has been contacted directly.  If you have not been contacted please attend your appointment as normal.

Outpatient Appointments

Please remember the hospital visiting policy when attending Outpatient Appointments and, if it is possible, please only attend by yourself (in the case of adults).

Visiting Restrictions

Visiting Restrictions, Exceptions, Patient Property drop-off/Pick-up