Derry & Strabane Councillors encourage people to get vaccinated

Calling for Council to encourage more people to get vaccinated due to an increase in Covid admissions, People Before Profit Councillor Maeve O’Neill has said that many health care workers are ‘demoralised and exhausted’ due to the present situation. 

Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher however claimed any suggestion the Covid unvaccinated was behind the current pressures the NHS is facing was a ‘total and utter myth’ and a ‘blame game’, while pointing to ‘severe cuts’ to health care services over the past two decades.

Declaring an interest as an employee of the Western Health & Social Care Trust, Councillor O’Neill said at the July Full Council meeting that she felt it was important to raise the matter considering the increase in hospital admissions and community cases of Covid 19 in the council area.

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She said: “I felt it would be remiss of me as a health and social care worker, not to highlight the situation we are now facing in our hospital services with the increase in community cases. We’ve seen the numbers in Altnagelvin jump to 37 positive cases with six out of our ICU beds for Covid 19 patients.

The last COVID vaccination clinics at Foyle Arena took place at the weekend, but people can still get vaccinated at pharmacists and mobile clinics. (File pic)

“It’s not just with the pressures of Covid, we’ve had a 10% increase in Emergency Department attendances and once again we are seeing Covid put a massive strain on our health and social care services and our health and social care workers.  Many of our workers are demoralised and exhausted. The summer is supposed to be a time for the health service where there is a bit of ease, however, it is like the winter pressures have continued throughout the year. 

“There’s pressure on staffing as well with staff going off because they have been in close contact and also for their annual leave. You see a real gap in our resources appearing because there isn’t enough staff.”

Calling for council and the general public to ‘have the backs of our health care workers’, Councillor O’Neill spoke of the need for everyone to ‘get back to some sense of normality’.  “I wanted to raise this issue in council because I want to encourage people to get vaccinated and wear masks and even if you are double vaccinated please take those basic precautions such as hand washing and social distancing. I want to challenge any misinformation that’s out there and as a council we have a responsibility to educate people which we have been doing and I think that’s excellent. Vaccinations aren’t a magic bullet but they are having an impact on the severity of the illness and the spread of the illness. I think it’s very important we encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated.”

The Mayor, DUP Alderman Graham Warke added that it was important to encourage the younger 18 to 39 bracket to ‘get out there and get the vaccine’.

PBP Colr. Maeve O'Neill and Independent Colr. Paul Gallagher.

Endorsing Councillor O’Neill’s comments, UUP Alderman Derek Hussey also appealed for the younger people of the City and District to get their vaccinations. “I would encourage all young people to listen to common sense and listen to the experts,” he said. “I encourage all to get the vaccination and help us all get back to some sense of normality going forward.”

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Councillor Paul Gallagher acknowledged what the previous speakers’ remarks, however, he said: “What gives me great concern is that there is a bit of a blame game going on and there are a few myths being put out there. For the past 15/20 years continuous governments have made severe cuts to our health service and frontline workers. Nurses wages are at the lowest levels they have been and in real terms for the last 10/15 years they have had wage cuts and that’s a reality.

“In recent times we have seen GP services being withdrawn, we’ve seen no out of hours services being delivered and that’s what’s putting pressure on our health service right now today. The blame game that’s going on saying that people who aren’t vaccinated are putting pressure on the health service, that’s a total and utter myth. They aren’t putting the pressure on. It’s the continuous cuts to services that is putting the pressure on the health services.

“I would encourage people to get vaccinated but we can’t start a campaign of blaming those who aren’t vaccinated for putting pressure on our health service because that’s not correct.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Sandra Duffy added her voice to the call for people to get vaccinated saying: “I would encourage people to please take up the vaccination because it is our road out of it because the vaccinations are working.”

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DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock said there ‘shouldn’t be a blame game’ and the message should be ‘simply encouraging people to go out and get vaccinated’. She added: “We are seeing the outworkings of people who have not been vaccinated and they are the ones who are most likely to succumb to this virus, so let’s make this a clear message.”

SDLP Martin O’Reilly endorsed the points already made encouraging everyone to take up the vaccine, whiule PBP Councillor Shaun Harkin spoke of his ‘alarm’ at threats made to health service workers at some recent anti vaccination rallies.

He said: “We need to let the health service workers know we have their backs. I was alarmed to hear prominent speakers call for people to make lists of health workers, describing them as Nazis and talk about hanging them, this is no trivial matter. We have to condemn that nonsense and stand with our health care workers.”

Alliance Councillor Philip McKinney agreed with Councillor Harkin’s condemnation of those threatening health care workers, before encouraging all young people to get vaccinated.

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Summing up, Councillor O’Neill thanked everyone for their support on the issue saying: “I want to highlight the seriousness of the rise in cases. There has been no let up for the health service who have faced massive pressures. We have been on our knees.

“This just doesn’t have consequences for people who have Covid, it has consequences for people who have planned surgeries as we have seen some planned surgeries cancelled.

“When the pandemic began it was the community who reacted and shut things down before the government, who reacted too slowly, did, and I’m looking for the community again to take the measures to stop the spread of the virus. The will of the community is there to look out for each other.”

By Gillian Anderson

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Local Democracy Reporter