The Southern Health and Social Care Trust had almost 800 staff absent on Monday, January 25 as a result of Covid-19, the Trust’s Chief Executive has confirmed.
Speaking at a meeting of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Shane Devlin described the borough as the epicentre of the pandemic in Northern Ireland and revealed the extent of the pressures placed on his staff as a result.
Speaking after the presentation, SDLP group leader, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon, thanked the Chief Executive and the Health Minister, Robin Swann, for their efforts throughout the pandemic.
Councillor O’Hanlon expressed his belief the public needed to be left in no doubt what their actions are doing to an already stretched health service.
“How many staff are off at the moment,” he said. “We need to let the public know the impact their reckless behaviour is having on our health care staff and the impact it is having on other services.
In response, Mr Devlin informed the chamber 780 staff were absent on Monday, January 25 as a result of Covid-19.
This, he explained does not mean they have Covid-19 but is a mixture of confirmed cases, staff required to isolate and those off because of the pressure and stress involved in the long fight against the virus.
He also revealed, the need to double ICU capacity at the hospital has led to the closure of theatres.
“Because of the pandemic, I have had to double our ICU capacity,” said Mr Devlin. “That isn’t as simple as doubling the number of beds, it also means the ICU needs more staff.
“I have needed to move 170 staff which has resulted in theatre closures. As a result of having to look after Covid-19 patients, I am in a position where I can’t do every operation.
“Last week, I ran 15 operations because the harm to the patients would have been irreversible. That was 15 operations to keep these people alive.
“On a normal week we would be doing more than 100 operations.”
When asked by Councillor Eoin Tennyson if the delays to appointments caused by Covid-19 would last longer in the Southern Trust than in others, the Chief Executive said the answer to that is “totally dependant on peoples’ behaviour”.
“We are already seeking help from other trusts with regards to both unscheduled and scheduled operations,” said Mr Devlin.
“The South Eastern Trust have been very good providing life saving cancer surgery and will have to continue to do that as the modelling does not suggest a drop off in our Covid demands will happen quickly.
“Realistically we are talking months, not weeks and even that is totally dependant on peoples’ behaviour.
“I am not trying to suggest everyone who has Covid-19 is careless, but if we take a careless attitude to lockdown, this will go on for quite a period of time.”