North’s chief medical officer warns of ‘very difficult winter’

Stormont Health Committee told the number of Covid-19 deaths will not reach a peak for ‘a couple of weeks’

In the North  only 66% of those aged between 18 and 29 having  received their first jab.   Photograph: Getty Images

In the North only 66% of those aged between 18 and 29 having received their first jab. Photograph: Getty Images

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Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer has warned of a “very difficult winter” ahead as healthcare staff deal with a “perfect storm” of increasing Covid-19 infections, seasonal pressures and lengthy waiting lists.

Giving evidence to the Stormont Health Committee on Thursday, Dr Michael McBride said it already “feels like the middle of the winter at this present moment in time”, with staff “physically tired and exhausted” and patients presenting with complications because they could not access care due to “excessive wait lists”.

“If you then imagine potentially 400 to 600 Covid admissions on top of that by late summer into September time, then you can imagine the perfect storm of additional pressures,” Dr McBride said.

The North’s chief scientific adviser, Prof Ian Young, said the number of Covid-19 deaths would not reach a peak for “a couple of weeks” .

The Department of Health in the North reported almost 2,000 new positive cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, and nine further deaths.

It follows the reporting of 11 fatalities on Wednesday, the highest daily death toll with Covid-19 since February.

A total of 379 patients with Covid-19 are in hospital in Northern Ireland, with 46 in intensive care.

Intensive care

The assistant medical director with the Western Health and Social Care Trust, Dr Ronan O’Hare, said 70 per cent of Covid-19 patients in their intensive care units were unvaccinated, and appealed to those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so as part of the “big jab weekend” on Saturday and Sunday.

The North’s mass vaccination clinics are to offer walk-in first doses on August 21st and 22nd for all over-18s in a drive to boost vaccination rates.

Approximately 85 per cent of adults in Northern Ireland have had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Uptake is lowest in younger age groups, with only 66 per cent of those aged between 18 and 29 having so far received their first jab.

The chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, Derry GP Dr Tom Black, said the rate of infection was higher in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK or Ireland because of “unvaccinated young people socialising, out in hospitality, spreading the infection, and inevitably...it’s going to bleed through into the older age groups, and we’re seeing that now with significant numbers [of Covid-19 patients] over 60.”

Complacency

He said fewer younger people were coming forward for vaccination due to a “combination of complacency and devil-may-care and ‘I’m alright Jack’.

“There’s a feeling among young people that if they catch it, it’ll be a mild infection, yet hospital admissions and hospital deaths are showing that young people can become severely ill and can end up in intensive care and can die from this.”

Dr Black said the greatest concern was of a “fifth wave” over the winter, and the way to prevent this – and to preserve the health service’s capacity – was to get vaccinated.

“If we get over 90 per cent vaccinated you’ll half the number of people in hospital, and then you can get your cancer operations done.”