Vulnerable patients receiving ground-breaking Covid treatments – Minister

Date published: 20 January 2022

Health Minister Robin Swann has welcomed the roll-out of new COVID-19 treatment options for patients who are at the highest risk from the effects of the virus.

Graphic for news update

Treatments previously only available to people who were hospitalised with the virus are now being offered to eligible patients in the community.  In the last four weeks over 350 patients across Northern Ireland have received either the Neutralising Monoclonal Antibody treatment (nMABs) Sotrovimab, at a Trust Outpatient COVID-19 Treatment Service, or the oral antiviral medicine Molnupiravir, to take at home. 

The Minister said: “It’s very encouraging to hear that patients in Northern Ireland are now benefiting from these ground-breaking drugs which have been approved by the Medicines Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

“Monoclonal antibodies and antivirals have been used by the health service since September of last year to treat patients who are hospitalised with severe COVID-19, and have been shown to improve survival and recovery time. The roll-out of these treatments to patients at highest risk in the community is a significant milestone in our battle against COVID-19 and will provide an additional layer of support for the most vulnerable in society.”

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Michael McBride, said: “The vaccination programme remains our first line of defence against COVID-19 but these treatments have an important role in lowering the risk of severe illness and death and will also reduce the number of people who need to be admitted to hospital, thus helping to ease pressures on the health service over the challenging winter months.”

Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Cathy Harrison said: “These effective new treatments have been rolled out across Northern Ireland at pace and I want to commend clinical teams in our HSC Trusts who have worked exceptionally hard to identify and deliver treatment to patients at a very challenging time for the entire health service.

“With additional drugs due to become available shortly, following approval from the MHRA, we are maximising our ability to protect vulnerable patients and prevent them from serious illness.”

People who are eligible for these COVID-19 treatments are prioritised for PCR testing. If they have a positive lateral flow test, they should get a confirmatory PCR test. This is very important as a positive PCR result is required to access the new treatments.

Patients eligible for the latest treatments who receive a positive PCR test result will be contacted by a clinician from the health service to discuss what treatments could be suitable for them.

This may be from an unknown or withheld number.

If you don’t hear from your local Trust within a couple of days you can ask your GP practice to contact the Trust on your behalf.

If you test positive for COVID-19 and do not receive any text message about treatment, but feel you are eligible, you can contact your GP practice to discuss this.

More information for patients and the public about the rollout of nMABs and antivirals is available at NI Direct Treatments for coronavirus (COVID-19)

Notes to editors: 

  1. Patients in the highest risk group from COVID-19 who receive a positive PCR test can access treatments. This includes some people who have:
    - Down’s Syndrome
    - Rare neurological conditions: Multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, myasthenia gravis and Huntington’s disease
    - Sickle cell disease
    - Certain types of cancer
    - Had chemotherapy in the last 12 months
    - Had radiotherapy in the last 6 months
    - Chronic Kidney Disease (stage 4 or 5)
    - A severe liver condition
    - Certain autoimmune or inflammatory conditions
    - A condition or treatment that makes people more likely to get infections
    - HIV/AIDs
    - Organ transplant recipients
    A doctor or specialist will confirm which patients are eligible for treatment.
  2. Should the patient aged 12 years or over be within a highest risk group and receive a positive PCR test result, a clinician from their local Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust will contact them to perform an assessment over the phone. If a patient is eligible for treatment, it is important to start the treatment within the recommended time period.
  3. If a patient does not hear from their local Trust within a couple of days, they can ask their GP practice to contact the Trust on their behalf. 
  4. If a patient tests positive for COVID-19 and does not receive any text message about treatment, but feel they are eligible, they can contact their GP practice to discuss this.   It is important that the patient carefully reviews the information on eligibility before making contact with their GP practice. More detailed guidance about patient groups from highest risk of COVID-19 can be found in in Appendix 1 and 2 of the National Clinical Policy here.
  5. If a patient has not tested positive for COVID-19 using a PCR test, they are not eligible for these treatments.
  6. For media enquiries please contact the DoH Press Office by email
  7. Follow us on Twitter @healthdpt(external link opens in a new window / tab).
  8. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service For Media Enquiries Only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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