Northern Ireland news

Craigavon hospital authorities 'profoundly sorry' after deaths of patients who contracted Covid-19

John Fleming (79) from Loughgilly, Co Armagh

TWO patients who contracted Covid-19 in Craigavon Area Hospital's haematology ward have died in the last 48 hours, the Southern Trust has confirmed.

Of a total of 14 people infected during the outbreak, a third person also died after discharge although the virus "was not the primary cause".

John Fleming (79) from Loughgilly, Co Armagh, who was diagnosed with coronavirus just days before he was due to go home, died on Thursday evening.

His devastated family said he had been admitted to the haematology ward for observation to see how he reacted to a new cancer treatment and doctors had told him he would be discharged "in a day or so".

He contracted the virus on August 17 and died in the respiratory unit after a protracted period of illness.

His daughter Yvonne Stewart told The Irish News her father "blamed the hospital" for allowing him to contract Covid-19 and "wanted his story to be told".

A woman in her seventies, named locally as Alice McShane from Derrymacash near Lurgan, who was also receiving cancer treatment, died on the same day.

Described by neighbours as "gentle and sincere" with "a brilliant sense of humour", she was buried yesterday after a short service in St Patrick's Cemetery.

Her family asked for donations in lieu of flowers to be made to the ward - which treats blood disorders - where she had been cared for.

The hospital also confirmed that a third person has died after discharge, but in this case the virus "was not the primary cause".

"We can confirm that two patients connected to the Haematology Ward, and who had tested positive with Covid-19, have died within the last 48 hours," a spokeswoman said.

"We are profoundly sorry about these deaths and extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of those who have passed away.

"A third patient who had been treated on the Haematology Ward was discharged home and has since sadly passed away with a Covid-19 positive diagnosis but this was not the primary cause of death."

Health minister Robin Swann said the deaths are "extremely distressing and disturbing" and the families have "my deepest sympathies".

"This situation demands a thorough and expeditious investigation. Patients and bereaved families are entitled to answers."

He said he is "closely monitoring management of the hospital's clusters, adding that the deaths "underline once again that we are in a public health emergency, fighting a virus that can be lethal".

The ward remains closed to new admissions with 17 members of staff also testing positive and "off work and self-isolating", along with 42 more "identified as potential contacts".

A second staff member has tested positive in a separate `cluster' in Ward 3 South Medical, which also had one patient contract the virus.

This has lead to 14 staff members self-isolating and all visiting suspended at the hospital in a bid to contain the outbreaks.

The spokeswoman said there are a total of "56 staff who are connected with clusters at Craigavon Area Hospital who are off self isolating" as well as a further "mix of clinical and non-clinical staff" across the trust due to cases "(which) generally relate to family/social contacts".

SDLP Upper Bann assembly member Dolores Kelly said it is "deeply concerning how quickly it has moved from one or two cases to these deaths and huge numbers of staff having to isolate with the impact that is having on patients".

"Patients and their families expect they would be safe in hospital."

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