Ambulances no longer queuing at Antrim hospital

The situation at Antrim Area Hospital improved significantly overnight and there are no ambulances queuing outside this morning.

Yesterday, 17 ambulances containing patients lined up outside and doctors were treating patients in the car park as pressure mounted on health service capacity.

The Director of Operations at the Northern Trust, Wendy McGowan, said the sustained surge in Covid-19 has resulted in non-red flag and confirmed cancer surgery being suspended for a number of weeks.

She said the situation now is completely different to April and May and is much more complicated.

The numbers are much higher now, she said, adding that there was more capacity in the hospital system during the first phase of the pandemic.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms McGowan said everyone is very concerned about what is to come because healthcare staff are working from such a low base line.

Although all patients are in single rooms and being well looked after, she said, staff are very stretched because they are running the equivalent of two wards while also running an emergency department.

There are 43 patients in the emergency room waiting to be admitted, she said.

In addition, hospitals are now managing Covid and non-Covid pathways, which makes the situation much more difficult, she added.

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Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the situation in Northern Ireland is very serious, saying the rate of infection there is four times the rate of the Republic.

He said there is ongoing engagement, North and South, on a political level between himself and Robin Swann and on a clinical level, between nurses and doctors.

Speaking on the same programme, he said: "As always, if assistance would be of use in the North in regard to health care capacity Ireland will not be found wanting in any way," he added.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane said that "urgent and swift actions" are needed in Northern Ireland to take pressure off acute hospitals and to bring the numbers of Covid-19 cases down.

Also speaking on Morning Ireland, Mr Cullinane said the Stormont Executive will meet tomorrow to consider proposals from the Health Minister as cases continue to rise.

He said that Sinn Féin will fully support any actions from the minister to "wrestle back control of the virus" but it needs to be "urgent, robust and decisive".

Politicians in the North need to act urgently, he said, adding that "every option has to be on the table as we cannot allow pressures heaped on health workers as is happening in Northern Ireland".

Public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally has said Northern Ireland should never have lifted all the restrictions that were in place, saying it was "a crazy thing to do".

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, he said he is lost for words at how badly the situation is being managed.

The Stormont Executive must move to close restaurants and bars, restrict shopping and tell people that there will not be a "five day free for all" over Christmas, he added.

Dr Scally, a President of Epidemiology and Public Health at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, said if politicians cannot sort themselves out, then "they're lost in the North".

He said you cannot have political divisions getting in the way of tackling the virus and this is what is happening in the North and must stop.

There must be a unified, preventative approach, rather than the current reactive one, he said.

He pointed out that bed occupancy in Northern Ireland is far higher now than it was at the height of the pandemic but bars, restaurants and shops are open.

Dr Scally said it is an appalling way to ignore the spread of the virus and the mounting death toll in Northern Ireland.

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