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'Every third call a Covid call' to Belfast GP surgery as infection rates soar by more than 140 per cent across city

The Nightingale at Belfast City Hospital is on 'standby' to re-open due to a surge in Covid cases across Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

A BELFAST GP has revealed "every third phone call" was linked to Covid yesterday as a massive surge in infections rates hits the city.

Dr Michael McKenna also expressed concern about the number of younger patients seeking treatment for suspected virus symptoms but are not vaccinated due to "conspiracy theories".

"It is hugely frustrating and what is also alarming are those people coming into the surgery who refuse to wear masks and are not vaccinated, placing staff and myself at risk," the west Belfast based medic said last night.

"The demand is phenomenal, with nearly every third call now a Covid patient, from teenagers to those in their thirties. Thankfully more people are getting tested now."

Meanwhile, emergency plans are being drawn up at the Belfast trust where more than 500 staff are off due to Covid - as its hospitals care for half of the north's positive patients.

Leaked documents seen by The Irish News lay bare the pressures facing the trust's frontline, with inpatient levels similar to those experienced during last October's second wave.

Trust staff are warned by management of "significant pressure" across the system caused by a staggering "142% increase of Covid-19 infection rates within Greater Belfast".

"As a result we are seeing a rapid increase in patients with Covid-19 being admitted, in excess of predictions," the internal corporate notice states.

The scale of staff shortages, particularly in nursing, is so bad at a time of rising admissions that the regional Nightingale facility is on "standby" to open - but only if it can be safely manned.

An internal memo sent to senior management yesterday also revealed there were 526 workers on leave due to Covid-related issues, with many fully vaccinated employees self-isolating after being in close contact with a positive case.

"This day last week, we had 302 staff off work with Covid-19 related issues, which is significant given that on top of these absences we have ongoing workforce challenges because of high vacancy levels within the Trust," it states.

"Today, 526 staff are off work with Covid19 related issues, and numbers have increased significantly in the last 2 weeks."

A total of 100 coronavirus patients are currently being cared for in trust hospitals, almost half of the total 208 positive inpatients across the north yesterday.

There are six critically ill patients in Belfast ICU as well as one suspected positive patient in intensive care.

Saliva based tests are being introduced for the first time across some Belfast hospitals to test staff for Covid, including the Royal Children's hospital, Muckamore Abbey and the RVH.

With A&E under severe pressure, the Mater hospital in the north of the city is not accepting walk-ins, a measure introduced earlier in the pandemic.

A Belfast trust spokesman confirmed that the cancellation of further non-urgent operations in coming days was being "considered" to "provide additional staffing capacity" as part of contingency plans.

He added that 96 "non-time critical elective surgeries", including hip and knee replacements, were postponed last week.

"This is never a decision we take lightly and reflects the magnitude of the situation we are facing," he said.

"In critical care, six beds are in the process of opening at Belfast City Hospital to provide care for critically ill Covid-19 patients. This will support our respiratory and critical care teams at the Mater Hospital and Royal Victoria Hospital.

"Covid-19 has fundamentally affected the work we do for the past 18 months and will continue to do so for some time. Every effort is being made to ensure a continuous high level of care can be delivered and whilst some difficult decisions will need to be made, our priority will remain to deliver safe, effective and compassionate care."

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