LISTEN: Health minister urged to bring forward phased return to 'normal' NHS

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By Q Radio News

Stormont's health minister is facing calls to reveal how many staff have been diverted from their normal roles in hospitals to fight the second surge in Covid19 patients.

It comes as the number of health workers currently off work begins to fall. 

But DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley wants to know how many wards are currently closed. 

He's also asking Robin Swann to bring forward a timetable for a phased return of medics to normal duties. 

Mr Buckley welcomed news that there are fewer health service staff absent from work, however he said wider concerns remain around workforce management and the impact reallocating some staff to fight Covid-19 will have on capacity of routine services including elective care and red flag surgery, even after this crisis subsides.

"Decisions are being taken in the last seven days which will have long-term implications for health of those impacted," he added. 

"Covid and non-Covid patients alike deserve continuity of care. Just like the economy cannot be turned off like a tap, it is wrong that patients with other serious illnesses including cancer have no certainty on their pathway to treatment or surgery.

"The DoH has told us this week that highly skilled anaesthetists and ICU nurses are in finite supply.

"Some staff in other specialties are being up-skilled to plug these gaps. We appreciate these are difficult decisions, however there needs to be a strategic assessment of the impact this will have on other health services not just in the next few weeks but when this terrible pandemic finally passes."

The Upper Bann representative expressed 'immense' gratitude for the efforts being made by NHS and care staff in the most difficult of circumstances.

"We owe it them to look urgently at workforce planning and give them that additional support and resource that is needed to reduce in-work pressures and maximise capacity in the health service," Mr Buckley said.  

"Whilst there are no easy fixes that work must begin now.

"I would urge the Minister of Health to present an analysis of wards currently closed, the number of staff diverted and ultimately bring forward a timetable for a phased return to normal duties as soon and as safely as possible.’’

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