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DUP Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said the Health Minister needs to explain what actions were taken in the summer months to deal with the winter surge.

Mr Donaldson said,

“A cycle of opening and shutting the doors of businesses is not the long-term answer to protecting our hospitals but is the sure and certain path to poverty for low income families.

The World Health Organisation has said “lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never, ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.”

We must take a balanced and proportionate approach which protects life and also family livelihoods so they are able to put food on the table and presents under the Christmas tree and not ignore the devastating impact of poverty. Indeed, our Chief Medical Officer reminded the Health Committee recently that poverty kills.

We have urged the Health Minister to make a statement to the Assembly tomorrow and detail how the summer months were used to ready our hospitals for the winter surge.

It makes no sense that eight months into this pandemic, there is no rapid and mass testing of staff in key wards or in care homes. This should be a daily occurrence. Before every shift on key wards and our care homes, the staff should be tested.

On 12 October there were 46 care homes with covid-19 outbreaks, yet on 12 November that number had risen extraordinarily to 143. All at a time when hospitality and close contact services were closed. Testing is amongst the best answers to combat spread within our Health Service and protect the vulnerable on our wards.

We need to also see the Department of Health set out its plans for the vaccine being rolled out. Last week at the Executive, it was agreed that the vaccine would be rolled out in line with England and health staff alongside the vulnerable would be prioritised. It would be unacceptable if other parts of the UK were availing of the vaccine in December and our Health Department was still considering the logistics.

When the Surge Plans announced by Ministerial Statement on 6 October are studied, they are heavy with strategies but light on detailed steps to explain how the Trusts will use the resources they have differently, how they will seek additional resources from the Finance Minister or Mutual Aid and how they will deliver the continuing treatment of other life threatening diseases such as cancer and coronary care. It is not good enough to simply say that people will be turned away and allowed to die for lack of access to treatment.

Finally, another serious consequence of continuous lockdown is the devastating impact it can have on the mental health and wellbeing of many people. We need an urgent plan to deal with the mental health tsunami that is heading rapidly towards our health service. We simply cannot turn a blind eye to this. People need to know that help will be available to them.”