Robin Swann requests military aid in Northern Ireland hospitals

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Health Minister Robin Swann has made a new request for military assistance to help relieve Covid pressures in Northern Ireland’s hospitals.

Mr Swann has made an official request to the Ministry of Defence to provide combat medical technicians (CMTs) and non-medical staff.

It is understood the latest request is linked to increased hospital pressures due to high levels of staff sickness due to Covid.

Thousands of workers across the health service in Northern Ireland are currently absent as the number of Omicron cases remains high in the region.

A Department of Health spokesperson told the PA news agency: “We can confirm that a request for military assistance has been made by the Health Minister to the Ministry of Defence.

“Our health and social care system is under severe pressure.

“The minister and department are liaising very closely with trust and board colleagues in relation to the current situation.

“The current pressures involve a number of factors including Covid and wider winter pressures on services and Covid-related staff absences.

“We would thank the public for their continuing support for our health service at this critical time, including all those who have come forward for their vaccine booster dose.”

Coronavirus – Tue Dec 15, 2020
Military assistance has previously been used at Antrim Area Hospital (Liam McBurney/PA)

Troops have come to Northern Ireland on three previous occasions during the Covid crisis following requests from the Department of Health under an arrangement known as Maca (Military Aid to Civilian Authorities).

The military helped in the creation of a huge emergency mortuary, storage, logistics advice for the setting up of mass vaccination centres and CMTs supporting staff at three hospitals during the second surge from January to February 2021.

Around 100 CMTs also worked at the vaccination centre at the SSE Arena in Belfast.

Later in the year, 80 medics and 30 support staff were deployed to the Ulster, City and Antrim Area Hospitals.

Last week, data provided by the health trusts and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to the PA news agency indicated that over 4,000 workers were absent due to the virus.

Coronavirus – Wed Nov 17, 2021
Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy has called for a guarantee on Covid funding for devolved areas (Niall Carson/PA)

Meanwhile, Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy has joined his counterparts from Wales and Scotland in calling on the Treasury to guarantee that money allocated to support Covid responses in devolved areas will be provided in full.

Following a meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke, Mr Murphy repeated a request for the Treasury to provide support to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland “if the public health situation in each nation demands it, not just when the assistance is applied in England”.

He said: “As we continue to deal with the challenges posed by Omicron the uncertainty surrounding the Covid funding provided by Treasury is unhelpful.

“It is also hugely concerning that Treasury may not permit funding to be carried into next year even if additional funding is confirmed at such a late stage that it prevents it being used most effectively.

“We have been calling on Treasury to reinstate the Self Employed Income Support Scheme and furlough scheme on a targeted basis where necessary. It is disappointing that Treasury is unwilling to provide support to workers and their families.

“We would ask Treasury to urgently reconsider this position.”

On Thursday, the Executive will meet to discuss the latest Covid situation in Northern Ireland.

Ahead of the meeting, First Minister Paul Givan tweeted: “Tomorrow the Northern Ireland Executive will consider latest data with increased confidence that severity is considerably less severe than delta and modelling following an optimistic scenario in hospitalisation pressures from Covid.

“The delivery of the vaccination programme has been very successful in building our defences to Omicron and the public following the health advice.

“We continue to face pressures across the public and private sector in staff absences. Thank you for the efforts everyone is making.”

Meanwhile, a further two patients who previously tested positive for Covid-19 has died in Northern Ireland.

Another 2,922 positive cases of the virus were also notified by the Department of Health.

On Wednesday morning, there were 439 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 29 in intensive care.

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