Arlene Foster – Heathcare workers may have suffered PTSD

By Michael McHugh, Rebecca Black and David Young, PA

Some doctors and nurses may suffer post-traumatic stress disorder due to the coronavirus pandemic, Stormont’s first minister warned.

Arlene Foster said official measures were being considered to help them through mental health problems caused by the deadly impact of the infection.

They could face over-crowded hospital wards and rapidly mounting numbers of fatalities over coming weeks.

Many medics are also frightened over protective equipment supply issues.

Mrs Foster said: “There will be mental health issues, not least for our front line staff, who will have to see things that they probably would never want to see.”

She added that ministers did not condone asking the elderly to sign do not resuscitate notices, as the NHS juggles difficult ethical issues about who to ventilate.

“That is wrong and should not be happening.”

The First Minister added: “People are dying alone, never mind having the wake for comfort for the family.

“It is a hugely difficult time for everyone. The grieving process has been very badly interrupted.”

Good progress is being made in acquiring more protective equipment for those tackling the coronavirus pandemic, deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill added.

An order of 5.5 million items of clothing began arriving in Belfast on Monday.

Mrs O’Neill said: “I have spoken with many frontline healthcare workers.

“You have told me you are frightened. You have told me you are worried about being able to do your job safely. You have told me that you are worried for your families.

“We see you, we hear you, and we are working night and day to make sure you get the protection that you deserve.”

Prospects for a joint order of kit from China placed with the Republic of Ireland have fallen through.

A formal memorandum of understanding has been devised by the health ministers north and south of the Irish border.

Mrs O’Neill added: “While we have two jurisdictions, we are one island and this means it’s sensible that we have common action to combat this deadly virus.

“The Covid-19 pandemic does not respect borders, so there must be a common approach to action in both jurisdictions on this island.”

The leaders of the devolved powersharing Executive appeared before an ad hoc committee of Assembly members at Stormont on Tuesday.

DUP leader Mrs Foster said: “We are doing everything we can… to get the right PPE to those who need it at the right time.

“We will continue to expand the testing of healthcare staff as quickly as possible.

“We fully understand the frustration that more staff have not yet been tested, both in the healthcare sector and across other sectors.

Meanwhile, Stormont health minister Robin Swann has been subjected to online threats which have been roundly condemned by Mrs Foster and Mrs O’Neill.

Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt campaigned with Mr Swann for election to the Assembly in 2011.

He said his children’s lives were in the hands of his colleague, who leads the NHS’ response to coronavirus, and appealed for greater courtesy.

He said: “Loving each other may be a bit of a stretch but for God’s sake we need to show each other a bit of respect.”