Northern Ireland news

No further deaths linked to Covid outbreak at Craigavon hospital but seven patients remain 'very unwell'

Craigavon Area hospital is at the centre of a major health service investigation after the deaths of four patients which were linked to a Covid-19 outbreak. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Seanín Graham

NO further deaths were reported at Craigavon Area Hospital yesterday after a coronavirus outbreak on a ward was linked to the deaths of four vulnerable patients.

The Southern trust also confirmed that no-one had tested positive for the virus on the haematology ward in the previous 24 hours, with the total number of patients infected remaining at 14, while 19 staff have also contracted Covid.

However, seven patients remain "very unwell".

Visiting restrictions are to remain in place for another week.

On Monday, health minister Robin Swann announced a high-level independent investigation into the outbreak, saying families deserved answers.

A total of three clusters have been identified across the Co Armagh hospital, with the first emerging in the A&E department last month when three frontline staff contracted Covid-19.

A separate outbreak in a medical ward last week resulted in one patient and two staff members affected. Overall, a further 56 staff are also self-isolating because of potential contact.

Southern trust chief executive Shane Devlin yesterday said he was confident the outbreaks had been brought under control.

Craigavon's A&E unit was "operating as normal" yesterday.

"We will be investigating thoroughly to understand what has happened, to make sure we can learn, because we need to learn," Mr Devlin told the BBC.

"...There is still a considerable human impact and we need to work with families to get through that."

Concerns have been raised by some families about the use of PPE, with "inconsistencies" in standards among visitors.

"That can be seen as inconsistency because one visitor may be wearing a mask and another visitor may be wearing a higher level of PPE," Mr Devlin said.

However, he said he was confident all visitors received at least the "minimum standard of PPE".

"We need to understand through the investigation as to whether that unfortunately failed or not," he said.

"Covid is a virus that we are still learning about and in many cases people will be asymptomatic, therefore it could be possible that nobody would know who was infected."

The chief executive of Blood Cancer UK described the outbreak as a "shocking situation" and said there was "strong evidence" that people with blood cancer are at "especially high risk" after contracting Covid.

Gemma Peters said: "It's vital that the haematology wards where patients have treatment have strong, rigorously-enforced procedures to stop its spread.

"If this does not happen, then it will both put people with blood cancer at risk from the coronavirus and undermine people with blood cancer's confidence in being able to safely go to hospital, which could mean some people do not get the cancer treatment they need."

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