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Health service must be transparent about Covid outbreaks

In a press briefing yesterday, health minister Robin Swann rightly highlighted the gravity of the coronavirus outbreaks at Craigavon Area Hospital and Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry which have claimed the lives of eleven patients.

The minister had earlier met relatives of one of those who sadly died at Craigavon Area Hospital and challenged anyone who still doubts the seriousness of this virus to sit with a bereaved family for one minute 'and see how sorely mistaken they are.'

Six patients who contracted the virus on a haematology ward at Craigavon have died, with a further five patients who contracted Covid on a male medical ward in Daisy Hill passing away.

The circumstances of the fatalities at these two hospitals are especially cruel as they involved people who had been admitted for other medical conditions.

In such circumstances it is absolutely vital that the source of infection is quickly identified and all necessary action taken to prevent the spread of the virus and any further outbreaks.

Following the deaths at Craigavon, an investigation was launched but concerns had been raised earlier this week over the appointment of a chair of the Serious Adverse Incident review, with the assembly hearing calls for the investigation to begin as a matter of urgency.

Mr Swann yesterday moved on this issue, confirming that Dr Guduru Gopal Rao, a consultant microbiologist from the London North West University Trust, has been appointed to head the review.

This is an important step forward for the families who are entitled to know the full truth about what happened to their loved ones.

But while the review must take its course, the southern trust and the department of health also have to be mindful of wider public confidence and should provide as much information as possible about the situation at the two hospitals.

It is not at all reassuring when the southern trust, asked about reports that staff at Daisy Hill had tested positive for Covid earlier this month, refused to comment.

As we face into the next difficult phase of this pandemic, our health service must be as transparent as possible about matters that are clearly of public concern.

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