Today it was with great sadness that we announced a further 12 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 to 48. Sadly there will be more in the days and weeks ahead, so to the forefront in our minds must always been that there are families grieving across in Northern Ireland.
We are facing a public health crisis like no other. Since we first truly comprehended the level of threat from Covid-19, I have never shied away from telling the public, the Executive, and the Assembly of the challenges ahead.
That includes the fact that we would see changes in the Health Service in a matter of weeks that would normally take years.
We in the Health Service have come a very far way in a very short time and we still have much to do, so now is not the time for us to lose our nerve. Now is not the time to lose faith, now is not the time to step back.
Now is the time to step up and put our faith in the men and women of our Health Service, to give them the support that they deserve.
A consortium including QUB, UU, C-ITRIC, and AFBI has been established, to scale up diagnostic testing:
Separately, there is a UK-wide initiative on staff testing in which Randox and Deloitte are key partners. The first Northern Ireland staff testing site from this UK-wide initiative goes live this weekend at the SSE Arena car-park. So that’s the Randox staff testing initiative on the ground in N Ireland this weekend. I trust that will allay some of the concern and speculation we have had of late.
I’m acutely aware of the concerns regarding PPE. Of course staff deserve to have the right type of PPE and get it when they need it.
We do have significant stores of PPE in place. We have over 22.5m gloves, near 7m aprons and over 1m items of eye protection, but could we do with more? Of course we could, there’s not a country in the world that has enough PPE in stock, especially as there’s not a country in the world that really knows the path that this virus is going to take.
We are aggressively pursuing all feasible supply routes, both international and local. This is as an absolute priority for both me, as well as Executive colleagues.
We also now have newly updated NHS-wide guidance on PPE, which will guide usage of the significant stocks of PPE we currently have. We know we will need more in future and we know we also have to make sure the current distribution and usage is always the very best it can be.
The reasonable worst case scenario figures we published this week shocked us all. But they can be changed, we can change them, by our actions and by our behaviours, by staying at home.
But there is nothing "reasonable" about the reasonable worst case, each of those figures, is a loved one lost, a family devastated.
So now isn't the time to be looking back, there will be time for that, but that time isn't now. Now we should be focused on saving every life possible. Your actions today matter, your actions tomorrow matter, your actions next week matter, please don't let your loved ones down.
When I stood at our door last night with our two children clapping for our carers, listening to that ring out across my village, hearing the horns blaring and the bagpipes play, I know that as a society, as a people, as fathers, as mothers, as sons, as daughters, there are challenges and dark days ahead of us, but we will come through it and we will come through it together.
Let me also just detail some of the work my Department has done at speed in response to Covid 19. I think it is important to highlight this work and to thank all those civil servants putting in the long hours for their commitment, just as I thank every single person right across the health and social care system.
- We are radically and rapidly reshaping our hospital network, to prepare services for the Covid 19 surge. That includes transforming the City Hospital Tower Block into a 230 bed Nightingale hospital.
- We have initiated an HSC Workforce Appeal. By this morning there had been 13,900 expressions of interest, with already 6,775 formal applications. Whilst it will take time to process these all, clinical applications are being prioritised and I’m delighted that the first recruits should be available for deployment as early as next Monday.
- We have worked with our hospitals to bring us to the position that as of midnight last night there were 2,067 beds empty and available for the inevitable surge of Covid 19 patients.
- We have worked along with GPs and Trusts to swiftly establish a network of primary care Covid centres around N Ireland.
- We have pushed the all-important messages on social distancing, on staying at home, washing your hands, keeping your distance. This is the most important duty of all. This is what will save lives and protect our health service. I appeal to people again to stick the course on social distancing and not to be distracted by noise on social media or elsewhere. We have also as a system actively supported the grassroots #Fightback campaign that has done so much to drive these messages home
- We have produced a Northern Ireland specific app that has been downloaded over 39,000 times.
- We have worked with GPs to help identify and contact tens of thousands of vulnerable people, to help them get the advice and support they need. There is much good work going on across Government and I am proud to say my Department is playing a full role in that.
- We have also undertaken expert modelling work on the Covid-19 surge, to inform planning and underline the importance of adherence to social distancing.