Health officials appeal ahead of omicron and most challenging holiday period ever

Senior health officials have appealed for the public's help in freeing up hospital beds ahead of the anticipated surge in the omicron variant of COVID-19 and what is predicted to be the most challenging holiday period ever for the health service locally.

Brendan Whittle, Director of Social Care and Children with the Health and Social Care Board said: “As we face into the holiday period with the expected rise in the rates of Omicron and we consider our current position in terms of those people who are medically fit to leave hospital, we need your help.

“If you are a family member, please do all you can to support your loved one to leave hospital as soon as possible. Also, if you are waiting for domiciliary care and your care arrangements are not immediately available, please talk to the hospital staff, please step down to a care home, your fees will be waived and please leave hospital so that we can free up vital beds.”

Mr. Whittle said many hospitals are working beyond capacity at present with many very ill patients waiting for hospital beds.

Altnagelvin Hospital

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Bed pressures are set to increase in the weeks ahead, driven by traditional winter illnesses and continued coronavirus infection, he added, pointing out how at midday on December 14, 2021, across the five Health and Social Care Trusts there were 241 people waiting in Emergency Departments with a decision to admit.

At the same time there were 182 people whose discharge from hospital was delayed by the need for suitable domiciliary care package or care home placement to facilitate their discharge.

Meanwhile, some 569 care home beds were reported as available to Trusts which could be used as step-down options. A week later on December 21, 59 of those delayed had been discharged to a care home. This meant that 128 of those who were fit for discharge remained in hospital a week later.

Mr. Whittle said that emergency departments (EDs) across the north are continuing to deal with hundreds of cases that are considered ‘non-urgent.’

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In the period March through to September this year, some 4,280 patients were triaged as ‘non-urgent’ in our EDs. Those non-urgent cases can only be addressed by staff when time permits, leading to long waits for people in over-crowded EDs as staff prioritise patients with life threatening and urgent conditions.

Emergency Department Consultant Dr Eoghan Ferrie insisted that staff would always do their best to treat patients that attended ED.

“If you have a life threatening condition or are seriously ill or injured then the Emergency Department is the appropriate place to go,” he said.

“Staff are continuing to work unbelievably hard to ensure that patients receive the treatment and care that they need. We know that will mean some people will wait longer to be treated in EDs, or to be admitted to hospital, than normal.

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“Please be patient and support us trying to support you.”

Mr. Whittle and Dr. Ferrie had the following advice for the public.

Consider other options – which may be available in your area - such as the Phone First service or an Urgent Care Centre when dealing with illness or injury that is not life threatening.

Self-care is the best choice to treat most minor illnesses, ailments and injuries. A range of common illnesses such as aches and pains, colds, upset stomachs and sore throats can be treated with over the counter medicines from your community pharmacist and plenty of rest.

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GP practices are also offering additional same day urgent clinical triage consultations and remaining open at lunch time with no half day closures for the working week over the holiday period.

Please be patient, staff are doing their best in a very difficult situation. Abuse of staff will not be tolerated.

There are other simple and effective ways in which the public can support Health and Care Services over the holiday period:

Ensuring you get your vaccines - COVID, booster and flu

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Getting your COVID passport

Wash your hands

Wear a mask

Limit your contacts