Second high-level investigation following Covid deaths of five more patients at two hospitals
FIVE more patients have died following Covid-19 outbreaks at two hospitals, triggering a second high-level investigation within the Southern Health Trust.
Three of the deaths were among 11 patients infected in a male medical ward at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.
Of 21 staff who have tested positive, two are "connected to theatres" and the resulting impact on staffing levels has led to some elective surgery lists at the start of next week being postponed.
There are also 67 staff at Daisy Hill self-isolating after being identified as contacts, as well as 45 following outbreaks at Craigavon Area Hospital.
A Level 3 Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) investigation has already been announced at Craigavon after the deaths of four patients who contracted Covid-19 while being treated on a haematology ward.
It was confirmed yesterday that two more patients have now died.
A similar Level 3 SAI - the highest level of hospital investigation - was confirmed yesterday following the outbreak at Daisy Hill.
Southern Trust chief executive Shane Devlin said it has "sought independent advice from both the NI Public Health Agency and Public Health England to make sure that our management is of the highest standard".
"On behalf of all our staff, we pass on our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of patients who have passed away," he said.
"Our immediate priority is to manage the serious impact of Covid-19 in our community and in our facilities."
Visiting remains suspended to all trust facilities.
Last week the trust refused to comment on reports that some staff at Daisy Hill Hospital had tested positive for Covid-19, after concerns were raised by SDLP assembly member Justin McAnulty.
It insisted last night it "has been following public health infection prevention and control guidance since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic and would strongly refute any suggestion otherwise".
At Craigavon, 14 patients and 23 staff tested positive for coronavirus on the haematology ward last month.
Sinn Féin assembly member Liz Kimmins said she is "deeply concerned" at the outbreaks.
She said the availability of coronavirus testing for trust staff has been raised previously.
"While workers are now being tested, this cannot happen again. Our health workers are fighting the virus on the frontline and should be protected.
"Visiting at the hospital remains paused and I would urge people to keep following the public health advice to stop the spread of Covid-19."
Mr McNulty also told the BBC that patients, their families and hospital staff are "worried sick".
He said the families of those who died "want and deserve answers" and staff also need to know that "all measures are put in place so their safety is secured".
DUP MLA Pam Cameron, deputy chair of Stormont's health committee, also said news of the deaths was "concerning and distressing".