Leading doctor in North ‘frightened’ after threats over vaccination plea

Call for incentives for young to get inoculated as further 1,082 Covid-19 cases reported

People in west Belfast queue for Covid-19 vaccines after 500 people were promised free tickets to Féile an Phobail’s music night in exchange for being jabbed. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

People in west Belfast queue for Covid-19 vaccines after 500 people were promised free tickets to Féile an Phobail’s music night in exchange for being jabbed. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

 

A leading doctor in Northern Ireland has been left “frightened” by threats of “summary street justice” after he urged younger people to get vaccinated against Covid-19 to stem rising hospital admissions leading to life-saving operations being postponed.

Dr Chris Hagan, medical director of the Belfast Trust, which operates several major hospitals including the Royal Victoria and City Hospital, said up to seven in 10 patients being admitted with the virus have not been jabbed.

“These are young people, they are not old people, they are young people who are in their 20s and 30s who are really sick,” he said.

“We have to treat them because they come through the front doors and are sick. No amount of planning can foresee that. We have to treat the sickest people in front of us.”

Admissions for Covid in the North have “nearly tripled” in the past two weeks, and are taking up about a quarter of the Trust’s 44 intensive care beds.

Dozens of cancer surgeries were cancelled last week, as the Trust blamed pressures from rising Covid admissions. A number of kidney transplants also had to be turned down at the weekend.

Dr Hagan said “the last thing we would want to do” is postpone life-saving surgeries, but there wasn’t enough intensive care staff to cope with the increasing admissions.

On Tuesday, six more deaths of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland.

The Department of Health said there had also been 1,082 new confirmed cases of the virus in the last 24-hour reporting period.

On Tuesday morning there were 224 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 37 were in intensive care.

Unexpected surge

The Belfast Trust “didn’t expect” the current surge “because we based our modelling on more people in the population being vaccinated”, he told the BBC’s Stephen Nolan show.

“Our modelling was based on the vast majority of the population being vaccinated. That hasn’t happened with certain age groups. That is driving infection rates in the community and that is driving admissions. It is an inescapable fact.”

Latest figures show 61 per cent of people aged between 18 and 29 in the North have received at least one jab. Some 71 per cent of those in their 30s have been inoculated while 84 per cent of those aged in their 40s are at least partially vaccinated.

Dr Hagan said he was “fed up hearing this is a fake illness” and that he has been “completely trashed” on social media after speaking out about the number of young people and pregnant women getting “really sick” with Covid-19.

“I had people threatening me with summary street justice,” he said. “I had people calling me a psychopath . . . I was appalled, really sad and I felt frightened.”

The North’s chief scientific officer Prof Ian Young has suggested the Republic’s policy that “incentivises” younger people to get vaccinated so they can travel and get into pubs and restaurants could work to increase uptake.

“For a long time the vaccination programme in Northern Ireland was leading in terms of the island of Ireland, we rolled it out really effectively,” he told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster.

“Just over the weekend the Republic of Ireland has passed us [for percentage of population vaccinated].

“There are probably many reasons for that but I’m sure that one of the reasons has been that people are incentivised to get vaccinated as a result of wanting to get into the hospitality sector.”

While it was a decision for Stormont Ministers to make, he said he would support any policy changes that encouraged more people to get jabbed.

Tickets for jabs

There was an early morning queue from 6am on Tuesday in west Belfast for Covid-19 vaccinations after 500 people were promised free tickets to Féile an Phobail’s Féile Music Night in exchange for being jabbed.

The event at Falls Park on August 8th features international DJ Paul Van Dyk and Judge Jules.

Féile an Phobail director Kevin Gamble said they had been working closely with Stormont’s Department of Health to help support health trusts “in driving up the vaccinations”.

Joanna Hogg, the nurse in charge of the vaccination programme at the Royal Victoria Hospital, said they were delighted at the turnout.

“It was really lovely to see and there was a nice buzz about the place, very positive and the Féile team have been amazing, helping us set up,” she said.

“The mobile vaccination team’s main incentive is to set up in areas that are more accessible to the younger age group and maybe at different times to when the vaccination centres would be open.” – Additional reporting: PA