Health workers ‘betrayed by negligent Stormont decision on restrictions’

Dr Tom Black
Dr Tom Black (PA Media)
17:12pm, Fri 13 Nov 2020
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Healthcare workers have been betrayed by Stormont’s “negligent” decision not to impose a fresh lockdown, a senior doctor has said.

BMA Northern Ireland chair Dr Tom Black warned hospitals are already over capacity.

Circuit-breaker restrictions have been extended by one week, with the partial reopening of hospitality next Friday, following a political wrangle which has exposed divisions between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Dr Black said: “The national response to a situation like that would be to bring in a further lockdown, to make that more severe, yet politicians have decided to ease restrictions over the next two weeks and open up society.

“That decision is incompetent and negligent and saying to the healthcare workers that ‘we are abandoning you’.

“If the healthcare workers thought that they had been betrayed by the Executive, I think that would be a reasonable stance to take.”

A total of 78 deaths involving Covid-19 occurred in the week from October 31 to November 6, and the overall toll has reached 1,141, official statistics showed on Friday.

On Thursday, at the 11th hour, a deal was struck by the Executive to end the deadlock over exiting the current coronavirus circuit-breaker.

Hair and beauty salons and premises without an alcohol licence like cafes and coffee shops can reopen next Friday, with hours restricted to 8pm.

Driving lessons can resume by appointment only.

Restaurants, pubs and hotels can lift shutters on November 27.

Pubs and bars will be permitted to sell sealed off-sales from November 20.

Amid pressure on the health service, dozens of surgeries have been cancelled at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust but efforts are being made to ensure cancer patients receive procedures.

Trust chief executive Cathy Jack said: “There may be potential harm in those patients that do not get their surgeries in a timely way that we would want.

“It could affect the outcome and it could have an impact on their life, it could be life-limiting.

“That includes cardiac surgeries, major complex surgery, there will be some patients with cancer in that and no-one wants to delay anyone with cancer surgery or other surgery.”

There are currently 130 Covid patients being cared for by the trust.

Ms Jack said the trust is enduring “uncertain and dark” days, and added: “This is the most difficult challenge that health and social care has faced.”

Another 607 people have tested positive for Covid-19 and a further 11 deaths recorded, the Department of Health said on Friday.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) chief executive Janice Gault said her sector had lost out under the latest planned restrictions.

Turnover is forecast to fall to less than a third of 2019 and the extended six-week closure will see a loss of sales in the region of £70 million.

She added: “From a hotel perspective, it has been a bleak month with frustration morphing into exasperation over the last week.

“The air of despondency at the start of the process has been replaced with one of disbelief and distress.”

Sinn Fein voted against the successful proposal because it ran contrary to the guidance from Stormont’s medical and scientific advisers to extend the circuit-break in its entirety for two weeks.

It was outnumbered around the ministerial table as ministers faced mounting public criticism over the delay.

The DUP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party voted for the breakthrough proposals.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said official support will be extended for businesses still required to close or severely limit their operations.

He said: “Every effort is being made to process applications as quickly as possible and so far, £12.9 million of payments have been issued to 3,418 businesses under my Department’s Localised Restrictions Support Scheme.

“Businesses which have already applied to this scheme do not need to make a further application. Another payment will automatically be given to eligible businesses to cover their additional period of restrictions.

“Last week the Chancellor provided a £400 million uplift for the Executive’s response to Covid-19. I have encouraged Executive colleagues to urgently bring forward proposals to use this money.”

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