As part of the preparations for the first wave, our priority was to ensure that the health and care system had sufficient capacity to deal with the rising numbers of Covid-19 patients.
During March and April critical care units across Northern Ireland implemented the regional critical care surge plan, providing the capability for the system to significantly increase critical care capacity to 198 level 3 beds, close to three times the normal capacity. This escalation in capacity involved significant staff redeployment and reconfiguration of clinical space in hospitals.
The Belfast City Hospital Tower Block was designated Northern Ireland’s Nightingale Hospital for the first wave. Due mainly to the commitment of HSC staff and the positive impact of social distancing, the Nightingale has not been required to deliver its full capacity.
With the number of Covid-19 patients requiring critical care maintaining a gradual downward trend, the Department has taken the decision to reduce the escalation level for critical care to ‘Low Surge’. The system will retain sufficient additional beds to continue to deliver care for Covid-19 positive patients in coming months. As part of this, the Nightingale will be temporarily stood down, although it will continue to be part of the region’s flexible plan to re-escalate if modelling suggests further waves.
While dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic continues to place additional pressures on our health and care services, it is absolutely vital that we start to re-engage other health and care services, with a focus on stepping up any urgent services which were paused during the acute response to the first Covid-19 surge. Reducing the escalation level will ensure that the HSC has the capability to release and redeploy some capacity to enable the resumption of urgent surgery and treatment.
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