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Queues of ambulances have formed outside several hospitals in Northern Ireland as pressure continued to mount on the region’s health service.
The scenes unfolded as first minister, Arlene Foster, participated in a call with other UK political leaders to review the planned relaxation of restrictions on household gatherings over Christmas.
No decisions were taken, with Stormont ministers set to convene to discuss the situation on Thursday amid intensifying calls from medics to rethink the relaxations and introduce fresh measures to curb the spread of the virus.
At that meeting, health minister Robin Swann will propose a series of new restrictions to executive colleagues.
“I will be bringing a paper to the executive on Thursday with a number of recommendations,” he told Northern Ireland assembly members on Tuesday.
Chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, has warned that the region now faces one of the most challenging periods of the pandemic after the most recent circuit break lockdown failed to drive down infections.
Hospital capacity across the region stood at 104% on Tuesday.
At one point outside Antrim area hospital, 17 ambulances containing patients were lined up outside the emergency department. Doctors were treating patients in the car park.
Wendy Magowan, director of operations at the Northern Trust, said one patient had waited 10 hours in an ambulance overnight.
“We have never known that in Antrim hospital, that simply does not happen, but there wasn’t a safe area to bring that patient in,” she said.
The deaths of a further six people with Covid-19 were announced on Tuesday, bringing the region’s toll to 1,135.
Another 486 new cases of the virus were recorded in 24 hours.
McBride said Northern Ireland was not where it needed to be in terms of case numbers at the start of a fortnight of festive relaxations, including a five-day period of increased household gatherings over Christmas.
“The circumstances we are currently facing are extremely troubling,” he said.
“We are not where we need to be or should be in terms of the transmission of the virus.”
McBride said it was important that arrangements for the festive season were “kept under review”.
Chief scientific adviser, Prof Ian Young, said there was no evidence to date to show that the circuit-break had brought down case numbers. Instead there had been two weeks of a “slow and steady increase” in case numbers with data showing that many people did not heed the “stay at home” message over the circuit break.
He said the R number was “at or a little bit above 1”.
“That’s certainly not where we hoped it would be,” he said. “We’re seeing a gradual increase in cases at the moment and that will undoubtedly feed through to hospital admissions and in due course critical care occupancy and unfortunately deaths.
“And those increases will come on the top of already high baseline levels in terms of hospital beds being occupied by Covid patients.”
Describing the situation at the Northern Trust, Magowan said 43 people were waiting for an emergency bed at Antrim hospital and 21 at the Causeway hospital on Tuesday morning.
She said that 100 of the Antrim hospital’s 400 beds were occupied by Covid-19 patients.
“The pressure has been building, we are seeing our Covid figures here in Antrim hospital increasing,” she said. “Day in day we’re not seeing this second surge starting to abate at all.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Northern Ireland: patients treated in car parks as hospitals overflow | Northern Ireland