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DUP Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley has called on the Health Minister Robin Swann to provide clarity on the number of health and social care staff who have been abstracted from their normal roles to meet a second surge in Covid-19 cases.

Mr Buckley said,

‘’It is welcome news that there are fewer health service staff absent from work than last week. However there remain wider concerns around workforce management and the impact reallocating some staff to fight Covid-19 will have on capacity of routine services including elective care and red flag surgery, even after this crisis subsides.

Decisions are being taken in the last seven days which will have long-term implications for health of those impacted.

Covid and non-Covid patients alike deserve continuity of care. Just like the economy cannot be turned off like a tap, it is wrong that patients with other serious illnesses including cancer have no certainty on their pathway to treatment or surgery.

The DoH has told us this week that highly skilled anaesthetists and ICU nurses are in finite supply. Some staff in other specialties are being up-skilled to plug these gaps. We appreciate these are difficult decisions, however there needs to be a strategic assessment of the impact this will have on other health services not just in the next few weeks but when this terrible pandemic finally passes.

We are immensely grateful for the efforts being made by our NHS and care staff in the most difficult of circumstances. We owe it them to look urgently at workforce planning and give them that additional support and resource that is needed to reduce in-work pressures and maximise capacity in the health service.

Whilst there are no easy fixes that work must begin now.

I would urge the Minister of Health to present an analysis of wards currently closed, the number of staff diverted and ultimately bring forward a timetable for a phased return to normal duties as soon and as safely as possible.’’