Seanín Graham: Improved vaccine uptake only part of solution required to fix broken system during fourth wave surge
THE "phenomenal" demands experienced in a Belfast GP surgery yesterday were felt across the north's health service as the fourth Covid wave peaked earlier than expected.
By 6.30pm last night, Dr Michael McKenna's said his triage phone calls were "up 100 per cent" on this time two years ago.
The Belfast trust, meanwhile, was firefighting spiralling Covid hospital admissions with a severely depleted staff, hundreds of whom were self-isolating after being 'pinged'.
As vaccine rates stall among the under-thirties in the north - 42 per cent have not been jabbed - the push to get them to come forward continues in a drive to reduce pressures on the hospital system.
But vaccine uptake is only one of the many problems facing a broken system in need a complete overhaul.
A haemorrhaging nurse workforce was already in place long before the pandemic while pre-Covid staffing pressures across the GP sector and social care have escalated.
With the worst waiting lists in the NHS, those facing delays for hip and knee replacements have learned last Friday their operations have been put back again due to the current crisis.
While these surgeries are deemed "non time critical" by health chiefs, for many patients stuck on five year waiting lists they will be life altering.
Meanwhile, NHS staff are suffering burn-out from previous waves.
Despite unprecedented levels of exhaustion, the frontline responded to emergency calls on Sunday evening when off-duty nurses were asked by the Belfast and South Eastern trusts to come in and help overstretched colleagues.
After a decade of poor workforce planning by the Department of Health and catastrophic cuts to nursing budgets, the north's health service is being propped up by good will.
That good will can only last so long and with an announcement on nurse's pay imminent, it can only be hoped that common sense prevails to help retain highly skilled staff by paying them what they deserve - and keep staffing levels safe.
With plans in place to re-open Nightingale as a regional facility treating Covid patients from across Northern Ireland, this can only happen with appropriate staffing in place.
The devastation wrought during the winter surge - when frail elderly people were treated on stretchers in the car park of Antrim Area Hospital on a night in January - cannot be allowed to continue during the latest wave.
Increased vaccination of up to 90 per cent of the population will halve hospital admissions in this wave and dramatically ease pressures, according to health experts.
So too will proper planning for the frontline workforce holding the system together.