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DUP Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley has urged the Health Minister Robin Swann to request military medical and logistic expertise from the Government as hospitals across Northern Ireland continue to wrestle with the expected peak of the third wave of Covid-19 cases.

Mr Buckley, who is also a member of the Assembly’s Health Committee, said:

‘‘Over the weekend our local health and care staff were being pushed beyond breaking point and, in some cases, appeals were issued to off-duty staff in an effort to help deal with pressures. Some estimates even suggest one in four of people currently in hospital in Northern Ireland have Covid-19.

Sadly, this upsurge in admissions carries the unacceptable threat of further vital cancer surgeries being cancelled. I recognise that this is not a scenario any doctor or nurse wants to see. It is therefore vital that every avenue of support available to the Department of Health capable of retaining active pathways to treatment even for a small number of additional patients is explored.

It has been clear for some time that the Army’s skills and logistical expertise could assist in the fight of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland. Now that our hospitals are becoming increasingly overwhelmed and at risk of being unable to fully enact their surge plans, it is clear that the case for enlisting this help has never been stronger.

Such assistance would also be transformational in terms of the roll-out of the vaccine. In Wales, 90 service personnel have been deployed to support Health Boards to rapidly establish vaccination centres and trained defence medics will also support in administering of the vaccine. This is in addition to ninety-four military personnel being embedded with the Welsh Ambulance NHS Trust.

As a full and integral part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland deserves to have access to the same world-class support. This would bring added-value to the local pandemic response. We welcome the fact that the Armed Forces have already placed medevac capabilities on standby for COVID-19 patients but there is much more that could be achieved.

I hope the Department and the Minister will recognise that the case military aid has never been stronger. We must ensure that hospitals, health staff and the most vulnerable are left in no doubt as to the political will to protect and defend them in the difficult days to come.’’