Health service will struggle with winter pressures and Covid, warns Swann

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Health Minister Robin Swann

By Jonathan McCambridge, PA

Winter pressures combined with the impact of Covid will create a struggle for the health service in Northern Ireland, Robin Swann has warned.

The health minister was at the Balmoral Show near Lisburn on Wednesday where he visited staff delivering Covid vaccinations at the “Jab & Go” clinic.

This week, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that Northern Ireland’s health service is about to “topple over” if immediate action is not taken.

Responding to those remarks, Mr Swann said the situation had existed for years but had been made worse by the pressures of Covid.

He said: “It is a description of what our health services has been under over the past number of years.

“The pressures that we have seen due to non-recurrent funding and the pressures that we have seen on staff have been exacerbated due to Covid.

“We are seeing increased pressure on our ICU and that curtails us from doing some of the services and delivering some of the operations that we want to do so that is where we are seeing that pressure now intensify.”

He added: “We are heading into what is normal winter pressures which always puts our health service under pressure, but that coupled with Covid will be a struggle so that is why we need to take decisions now to ease that pressure, and getting vaccinated is one of those.

“The more people who are vaccinated, the less people who will end up in hospital.”

Pictured - Health Minister Robin Swann

Mr Swann joined with agriculture minister Edwin Poots and First Minister Paul Givan at the Covid vaccination tent, to speak to medical staff. While there was a slow start, staff told the ministers that they expected the number of people attending for vaccination to pick up later in the day.

Mr Swann said: “One of the things I have always made clear about our vaccine programme here in Northern Ireland is that we would take every opportunity to bring the vaccine to the people where they could get it easily.

“One of the challenges we have actually seen is getting rural people vaccinated because we know of the time pressures and constraints that they are under.

“Balmoral Show is the highlight of the rural season, it is good to see it back here after two and half years, so we have brought a vaccine station here so that anybody who has come to the show who still wants the opportunity to get their first vaccine, we have brought it to them here.”

The Stormont Executive is due to meet on Thursday to discuss further relaxations of Covid restrictions and plans for a winter surge of the virus.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said he expected ministers would take a “sensible approach”.

Pictured - Finance Minister Conor Murphy

He added: “There are still people dying, unfortunately as a consequence of Covid. We are coming into winter pressures which are always stressful on the health service.

“We have to protect the public’s health, but also the health service, and so we need to take the advice from the health people and have a sensible approach in terms of any relaxations which are proposed.

“I don’t see any major change coming on Thursday. To be quite honest, we are in a precarious position and we need to manage this carefully, because society is depending on us to make the right decisions at the right time.

“This isn’t about rushing into things to satisfy any particular business sector, this is about our responsibility to the entire society.”

Mr Murphy added: “This is never static, it changes very quickly, so we have to have all of the options on the table, but my understanding is that we are heading in the right direction. The more vaccination there is, the better for us and people should be encouraged to take up the vaccines.”

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