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Chief Executive admits Trust’s estate not the ideal location for treatment and containment of Covid-19

Craigavon Area Hospital

The Southern Trust’s estate is not the ideal location for treatment and containment of the virus, it has been revealed.

The Chief Executive Shane Devlin made the admission during a board meeting of Trust members, in which he highlighted a number of challenges facing staff at present.

He also indicated that “government action has impacted” on community transmission but said the numbers are “going in the right direction”.

Mr Devlin informed members of five key challenges that lie ahead, which include: staff burnout; unscheduled care flow as a result of beds closing; the impact of continued and sustained community transmission of Covid-19; potential further redeployment of staff and nosocomial transmission (patients catching Covid-19 while in hospital).

Addressing the issue of staff burnout, Mr Devlin told the board his staff are tired having worked through the first surge and are now dealing with the second, without a substantial gap in between.

“People have been working hard now for the past seven or eight months in this pandemic,” said Mr Devlin.

“People are tired there is no doubt about that.”

He also provided board members with further detail of the risks posed by the other challenges he listed.

“With regards to unscheduled care flow – we may have to close beds for genuine reasons.

“When and if this happens we will have to act quickly to ensure we best manage any increase in patient flow.

“Community transmission is also a worry, the numbers are going in the right direction but they have been very high here.

“Without getting political, government action has impacted on this and we, as a Trust, will have to deal with the impact in our systems.”

With regards to the redeployment of staff, Mr Devlin said this was already happening but the Trust would be doing all they could to maintain service levels.

“We have already redeployed 45 staff from older persons and primary care teams to meet Covid-19 demands,” said Mr Devlin.

“We have also had to reduce the number of elective surgeries taking place in order to redeploy 105 nursing staff to enable our ICU to reach its maximum surge capacity of 16 ICU beds.

“In order for us to meet the regional surge plan requirements, we have had to stand down a considerable amount of elective care.”

As for concerns that patients may enter hospital without Covid-19 only to be infected by the virus during their stay, Mr Devlin again warned board members that the Southern Trust’s estate is not the ideal location for treatment and containment of the virus.

“We have to be aware there is the possibility that when the virus enters our hospitals, there is the real possibility that people may get it as a result of being in our hospitals,” said Mr Devlin.

Speaking during a virtual board meeting in September, Mr Devlin said it was difficult to ensure “enough space for people to physically distance” within Trust premises.

During September’s meeting, Dr Sara Hedderwick, an infectious disease consultant in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, also talked up the ability of side rooms to prevent an outbreak of infectious diseases.

“Give me a new hospital of all side rooms and I would guarantee we would never have an outbreak,” said Dr Hedderwick.

“By the time we know we have a case, people have been put in a bay beside people for two days. Bays are the place outbreaks happen.

“We are trying to mitigate but any mitigation will only do so much. Being on a bay is like being in a household with someone infected, so yes, more side rooms please.”

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