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‘Covid-19 has taken over our lives’ says chair of Southern Trust

Roberta Brownlee, Chair of the Board of the Southern Trust
Roberta Brownlee

The Southern Trust may have to consider meeting more frequently to discuss pressures being placed on the organisation by the coronavirus pandemic, its chair has confirmed.

Addressing a virtual Trust Board meeting, Roberta Brownlee  described dealing with both the normal running of the Trust and the extra pressures as a result of the pandemic as a “challenge”.

“Covid-19 has taken over our lives,” said Mrs Brownlee.

“While we continue to do the day-to-day work a lot of time is being taken up with the pandemic but at the same time we are still trying to run our day to day business and that is a challenge.

“We may have to consider how often we meet. We meet monthly at present but do we need to meet more often to discuss Covid-19 on its own?”

“The pandemic does take up such a chunk of our business now, we may have to facilitate additional meetings to discuss it.”

The Trust’s chief executive Shane Devlin, meanwhile, has pleaded with people to act sensibly to help ease the burdens on the system.

He did so as it emerged there are now more patients in hospital beds across the Southern Trust area that during the peak of the first Covid-19 surge

Mr Devlin told the same meeting the second surge is here and the challenges facing the Trust are greater than they were first time around.

He alerted members to the large number of inpatients, the public’s use of the emergency department, the prevalence of Covid-19 within the area encompassed by the Southern Trust and the pressures on staffing.

The largest number of inpatients across the Southern Trust at any point was 63 during the first surge, but Mr Devlin confirmed that as of October 21, there were 77 inpatients across the Southern Trust.

“That is really important for the Board to understand,” said Mr Devlin. “We are now in the second surge and the numbers are already higher in terms of inpatients in our system. That is a huge pressure on our system.

“The first surge was a different environment to what we are in now. In the first surge people did not come to the emergency department, we are in a different position now.”

Mr Devlin said the prevalence of Covid within the community and the rate of community transmission is “much higher” now too.

“The testing capacity has increased since the first surge and that could lead to more cases of the virus being found but I think it is really important to note the rate of Covid-19 per 100,000 of the population,” he said.

“In the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council region across the last seven days the rate per 100,000 is about 260 per 100,000.

“In the Mid Ulster District Council region it has been in the high 400s and recently, by looking at the post code data around positive tests, the Dungannon area appears to be very hot.

“In terms of Newry, Mourne and Down the seven day average has been well over 300 for the last three weeks as well.”

Mr Devlin also informed the meeting that as of today, Thursday, October 22 there were over 500 people across the Trust unable to work as a result of a Covid-19 related issues.

“That does not necessarily mean they have had a positive Covid-19 test, but they may be shielding or have a family member with symptoms,” said Mr Devlin.

“We have demand for our services that is greater than we had during the first surge and our resourcing challenge, in terms of staff, is considerable.”

Looking ahead and Mr Devlin said it was vital that the public adhere to the restrictions to reduce the stress on the Trust’s capacity.

He explained it was important the local community adhered to the restrictions to help drive down the rate at which Covid-19 is spreading.

At the same time, the chief executive also informed board members to expect a delay between a decrease in the rate of transmission and a reduction in the numbers requiring hospitalisation.

“We need the community to behave in line with the restrictions,” said Mr Devlin.

“However, this Board must not be under any illusion that will have a quick impact on the hospital environment.

“In April, cases peaked but hospital inpatient care did not drop until considerably later, and the evidence from the first outbreak shows that impact of lockdown is evidenced later in the hospital environment.”

The latest figures from the Department of Health show that there are currently 71 Covid-19 patients in the Southern Trust – 59 at Craigavon Area Hospital. To date, there have been 421 patients discharged.

The latest figures can be viewed on the official dashboard here.

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