Covid cases are 'doubling every three to four days' at two local hospitals, Western Trust warns

Darren Beattie

Reporter:

Darren Beattie

Email:

darren.beattie@tyronecon.co.uk

The number of Covid-19 positive patients is "doubling every three to four days" at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) and Altnagelvin Area Hospital, the Western Trust has warned.

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Geraldine McKay, the director of acute services, who is a native of Newtownstewart, stressed that both hospitals are "right in the middle" of a Covid-19 surge presently.

Forty-five Covid positive patients are being treated in hospitals in the trust area, with 31 of those cases in Altnagelvin Hospital where there are five people in intensive care (ICU). In the South West Acute Hospital, there are 14 cases, with two patients in ICU.

Cavan is the only county in the Republic of Ireland that has a higher rate of transmission than Fermanagh and Omagh, said Mrs McKay. "Derry and Strabane have three times higher transmission rate than anywhere else in this region," she said.

The chairman of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Chris Smyth, has since issued an appeal for people to follow public health advice to help stop the spread of Covid-19 in the district and to prevent further restrictions.

Earlier this week, Omagh business, Mollie's Takeaway and Diner announced it was closing its sit-in facility for two weeks in a bid to "protect staff and customers". In the past seven days, 264 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the Fermanagh and Omagh area, including over 50 people who are aged 60-plus.

Altnagelvin and South West Acute hospitals have been experiencing "increasing numbers on a daily basis", said Mrs McKay, who added: "It appears our numbers are doubling every three to four days in terms of patients who are positive. As a result of that, we have reviewed our surge plan."

Surge

"Both hospitals are ready and are actually right in the middle of surge at this time. Altnagelvin is at red and South West Acute Hospital is at amber," Mrs McKay said.

As the pressure mounts on our local hospitals, Mrs McKay said that on Friday, there were 345 staff members at Altnagelvin who were not available, and 115 staff unavailable at SWAH.

"About a third of staff are not available to us because of community contact," said Mrs McKay. "That is very concerning, and as the numbers increase, more and more people will find themselves in that position.

"So it's not only the hospital impact that is causing our staff to self-isolate, it is the high transmission rate in our community that is impacting on our staff. A lot of our workforce lives in the area of Strabane and Derry, and Fermanagh and Omagh.

"This is an extremely challenging position for us in terms of how we do our business and the services we can provide.

"The biggest constraint is staff and staff being unavailable to us means we cannot provide everything, so I think we are coming close to a decision on what we can provide across our sites in the next day or two if cases continue to rise."

Cancer, clinically-urgent and day-case orthopaedic surgery is continuing, said Mrs McKay, but she added: "In terms of maintaining services, it is very challenging and it's being reviewed on a daily basis.

"South West Acute Hospital is still maintaining their outpatients, their inpatients and day-case, and we are still maintaining services in Omagh. But this is becoming increasingly difficult and we cannot continue to do that for the longer term. So we will be making decisions on that this week."

"Our biggest resource in the trust is our staff," said Brian McFetridge, assistant director in acute services. "The number of staff we have off because they are a contact of a friend or a family member who is positive within the community is having a knock-on effect on how we can deliver our services."

Throughout the pandemic, there have been visiting bans placed in hospitals, and presently, restrictions mean patients are allowed just one visitor for one-hour per week.

"That is very challenging for families and for the patient," said Mr McFetridge. "Unfortunately, we have seen a growing number of incidents where our own staff has been faced with verbal abuse and aggression regarding some of the restrictions.

‘Long waits’

"Within our Emergency Department (ED), we have asked people to attend alone or with one person, if possible. Again, ED has been experienced long waits within their department. We ask the public to be patient with us and to be kind.

"Please care for us as we care for you and your loved one. We like families and visitors, but at this time we are doing to protect our patients, families and staff."

The Emergency Department continues to be extremely busy, said Mrs McKay, who is asking the community to consider "alternative pathways" other than to attend ED.

She said: "We are asking you to support us to reduce footfall to ED. We want the right patients to come to ED, those who need emergency care. If there is an alternative, please take it."

In an appeal to the public, Mrs McKay asked for the community to adhere to the restrictions. "This is really important, to bring your contacts down to low as possible. If you have to go out, make sure you maintain social distancing and to adhere to good handwashing."

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