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Southern Trust Chief warns ‘Covid has not gone away’ as preparation underway for potential autumn surge

Craigavon hospital ICU

As lockdown restrictions ease, the Chief Executive of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust has warned Covid-19 has “not gone away” and urged the public to continue adhere to the hands, space, face guidance.

Speaking at a virtual meeting of the Trust’s board in May, Shane Devlin told those in attendance that the pandemic is in a very different phase at present but stressed it is “still a heightened phase”.

“Lockdown and other measures have worked but the number of infections are not at zero, it still exists and we are aware that some hospitals are still struggling with outbreaks and nosocomial (hospital) transmission,” he said.

“We just need to reinforce the important measures in our hospitals, our communities and our homes to make sure that we are following sensible rules in terms of space, masks and ventilation.

“Please, please note, Covid-19 has not gone away, it is still there and we as a Trust have to be rigorous in our efforts to protect our population.”

Meanwhile, the Trust’s Director of Acute Services, Melanie McClements has confirmed preparation is already under way to prepare for any possible surge of the virus next autumn or winter but admitted keeping all services running could be a “significant challenge”.

“We had overspilled three wards with medical patients because of the demand throughout the COVID period,” said Ms McClements.

“If, and when we surge again, that diminishes our ability to actually deliver some our services.

“At the minute we are trying to work through our best intention plans to be fair to all the client cohorts but we do acknowledge that we have to have the pandemic plans ready to go.

“Should we have a surge that is beyond our natural footprint, we will have to step up.

“That includes having our workforce prepared and back to our range of surges across our respiratory and intensive care and the stand down that is quite often required to make that happen.”

Noting around £8.7 million has been secured to address the issues of illness being spread in a hospital setting  at premises in the Southern Trust, Ms McClements said while it is undoubtedly a good thing, it will present its own immediate challenges.

“This work will not come without its pain,” she said.

“There will be impact in terms of beds. To do some of that work we will have to stand down some of our beds and facilities.

“We have a planning group up and running with all the right people around the table to minimise the impact but the bottom line is we will have less space while the work is ongoing and the way we have used our space will have to change.

“Our emergency department backlogs will suffer as a result and that is worrying going into the winter but the best plans will be put in place to address this within our available capacity.”

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