Northern Ireland news

Health officials offer reassurances as Covid surge leaves only 9 ICU beds free

There were just nine ICU beds available across the north yesterday

HEALTH officials last night sought to reassure the public that hospitals can cope with mounting pressures caused by Covid-19 after it emerged there were just nine intensive care beds available across the north.

The situation was described by a member of Stormont's health committee as "critical", but the Department of Health said a plan was in place to "ramp up" the number of ICU beds if required.

However, there was also a warning that making more intensive care space available would have knock-on effect across the health service.

The number of people with coronavirus being treated in hospital stood last night at 342 – with 39 in intensive care – outstripping the peak during the first wave of the virus in April.

Health officials said yesterday that there had been five further Covid-19 linked deaths and 727 new cases of the virus.

Amid intense pressure on the system, the Northern Trust urged people not to attend Antrim Area Hospital unless they required urgent medical care because it was "operating beyond capacity", with 27 sick patients awaiting admission.

It said: "As we are clearly in the midst of the second Covid surge with many very ill patients in our hospital, we are asking all patients who are fit to be discharged and assessed as requiring a community bed to accept the first bed identified as being available."

It is also understood there were no ICU beds at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry.

Meanwhile, two patients and seven members of staff tested positive for Covid-19 in an outbreak on a ward at the Ulster Hospital, which has closed to new admissions and visitors.

Nine other patients are self isolating.

SDLP health committee member Colin McGrath said the "situation in intensive care is critical"

"Nine beds available across the north is a precarious position to be in and clearly demonstrates the need for the return of the Nightingale facility to increase capacity," he said.

"This should be a wake up call for anyone still playing fast and loose with the regulations."

A Department of Health spokesman said an extra 50 ICU beds could be made available if required through a combination of additional capacity in each trust and the Nightingale facility at Belfast City Hospital, which health minister Robin Swann confirmed earlier this month would re-open.

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