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DUP South Antrim MLA and Vice-Chair of the NI Assembly Health Committee Pam Cameron has pressed the Health Minister to identify practical asks of the NI Executive and the Government to better support local health and social care staff who are leading the response to a second surge in Covid-19 cases and ensure routine services remain at appropriate levels.

Commenting, Mrs Cameron said:

“Data from the Department of Health’s dashboard highlights that the total number of available beds in Northern Ireland fell from 3,675 on 13 October to 2,965 on 20 October. In this same seven-day period the number of beds occupied by patients with non-Covid illness reduced by 600. These are deeply worrying trends which indicate that routine services are again falling victim to Covid-19 pressures facing our health service.

With hundreds fewer non-Covid patients occupying beds, patients in desperate need of help are clearly not getting the timely attention they deserve. An apology is the least people expect. Patients need to see action and solutions.

The wholesale suspension of health services such as cancer operations should not be inevitable. The Department has had many months to prepare for a second surge and the public have been given assurances that non-Covid appointments, treatment and surgery will continue to be facilitated where safe to do so.

The Minister has indicated on many occasions that we do not have enough nurses. I fully appreciate that addressing the long-term staff recruitment and retention issues will not be a quick fix but we must press on with efforts to greater resolve it.

It is widely recognised by all parties that our health service staff are under immense strain as the number of hospital cases of COVID-19 rises again. In other parts of the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Defence have played a central role in easing the pressure on Health Service staffing and resources. Locally recruited regiments, such as the Irish Guards and Royal Irish, have carried out duties in Wales assisting ambulance crews, operating drive-in testing centres in England and delivering supplies to name just a few examples. The Minister must strongly consider utilising them in Northern Ireland to provide immediate support so we can scale up testing of health care staff.

The public also have a vital role to play in helping to limit the spread of COVID-19. By following the guidance, such as on social distancing and face coverings, we can all help keep the pressure off our hospitals.

I am again calling on Robin Swann to identify key asks of the Executive and the Government which can help to alleviate Covid-19 demand on our hospitals and staff as well as make more beds are available for those needing care for other serious illnesses. We need to act now to exhaust every avenue and ensure every patient with Covid-19 or another health problem receive a fair deal and equitable treatment.'