Northern Ireland news

'Twindemic' of Covid and flu intensifying health service strains

PRESSURES on the strained health service are being intensified by rising cases of Covid-19 and flu.

The pandemic casts “a long shadow over our health service and wider society”, the Department of Health said as it revealed a hospital admissions jump.

There was also a warning from the Royal College of Surgeons that the north’s health system is “running on red”. Director Prof Mark Taylor said the “twindemic” is causing unprecedented pressure.

On Thursday 374 patients were in hospital with Covid – 11 per cent of all beds. That compares to 226 patients on December 5.

According to the Office for National Statistics, one in 16 people in Northern Ireland are likely to have been infected at Christmas. That compares to around one in 20 in England, one in 18 in Wales and one in 25 in Scotland.

Levels in the north are at their highest since March. The UK rate is as its highest since the summer, with nearly three million people likely to have had the virus over the festive period.

There are fears that this wave could be one of the worst. Infections peaked at 4.3m last winter during the spread of Omicron but reached 4.9m a few months later during the wave caused by the Omicron BA.2/3 subvariants. 

The latest wave has not been linked with a specific variant but is instead likely to reflect increased social mixing and airborne transmission, particularly during cold weather when more people are likely to stay indoors.

The department said Covid and flu are among factors contributing to difficulties. It said for many patients, Covid will not be the principal reason for ill-health and admission but infection can affect condition, recovery and care.

Most health trusts are starting to cancel non-urgent operations.

Prof Taylor said cancellations leave people in pain. He said: “Many of the people coming to EDs are coming with flare-ups of the particular problem they are on a waiting list to be rectified for.

“We have rehearsed this for many years now. Unfortunately in the aftermath of Covid we have a twindemic of flu and Covid. We have staff reductions. We have the longest waiting lists. We have primary care in great distress.”


Northern Ireland news