Health Minister Robin Swann speaking to Derry doctor Tom Black at Altnagelvin's COVID Centre
The Health Minister yesterday visited Northern Ireland’s first COVID-19 centre which officially opened at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry.
A network of new Primary Care COVID-19 Centres is being rapidly established to manage the growth of coronavirus cases in the community.
As of 11:15am on Wednesday March 25, testing has resulted in 37 new positive cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Northern Ireland to 209.
To date, seven people who tested positive have sadly died.
A newly published surveillance report by the Public Health Agency provides a breakdown of confirmed cases by district area.
It revealed that Derry and Strabane has between 5 and 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at present while Belfast has the highest with 40-60 cases.
The latest information for the south of Ireland, as of yesterday evening, showed that there have now been seven COVID-19 related deaths and 1,329 confirmed cases.
Speaking to the Derry News after completing his first shift at Altnagelvin’s COVID-19 Centre, local doctor Paul Molloy wished to stress that it is not a virus testing centre.
He said the rise in cases is less than expected - but still bad - which reflects the exceptional social isolation skills being shown. The local GP praised the Derry public for their efforts and urged them to ‘keep it up’.
Dr Molloy advised: “Please do not ring looking for a test or asking your GP. The only people that will be tested are people being admitted to hospital and they will be low numbers hopefully.
“There will be a large increase in tests available soon. The priority will be very sick patients, those admitted with possible virus, healthcare workers so we can maintain a workforce and then nursing home patients.
“If you are in the community with flu but overall are well just use the isolation measures and keep yourself hydrated and symptom free.”
He added: “I repeat there will not be testing for people in the community routinely.
“The set-up is very, very safe for patients and staff. We were all shown how to put on and off the protective equipment.
“Once your GP decides you need to go to the centre - the out of hours in Altnagelvin - the GP contacts them and an appointment time is given. Then you put on a mask when you arrive, a nurse takes your temperature, pulse etc and a doctor sees you.
“You will probably get a treatment and go home. Very sick people will be assessed by the medical team. You may still be sent home or kept on ward 30 or 31.
“The vast majority if people phoning your GP will just be given a treatment by the GP and not sent to the COVID centre.
“Some people might go by ambulance to the Emergency Department. Children who are lower risk from this virus will be assessed in paediatrics.”
Visiting Derry’s COVID-19 centre, Health Minister Robin Swann explained that more centres will open in the coming days, with at least one COVID-19 centre in each Trust area.
Minister Swann said: “Primary Care COVID-19 Centres are an essential part of the fight against this virus. To ensure vital GP services can be maintained throughout the coming weeks and months, it is absolutely critical that those who show symptoms are separated from the patients with non COVID-19 related conditions.
Patients will not be able to report directly to these centres without being referred by their GP or Out of Hours provider.
“Whilst the centres will help to free up GP services to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital we balance this with the need for primary care services to continue with the minimum of disruption.”
Patients attending these centres will receive appropriate treatment, assessment and, if necessary, onward referral to hospital.
Dr Tom Black, Chair of the BMA in Northern Ireland, is among the GPs working at the new Primary Care COVID-19 Centre at Altnagelvin. He said: “GPs have organised themselves very quickly and there has been a huge amount of work done between the Department of Health, the Health and Social Care Board, Trusts and GP Federations to provide the community with these Covid-19 centres.
“This method of GPs working in the middle ground is vital to protect hospital services for patients with the greatest need. I have no doubt that this work will save lives.”
Concluding, the Health Minister said: “I want to pay tribute to the vision, rapid action and commitment shown by our primary care doctors. Without hesitation, they have risen to meet this unprecedented challenge. On behalf of everyone in our community I want to thank them for the hugely important work they are doing.
“We must all now do our part to support these healthcare professionals in the fight to stop the spread of this virus. The message is clear - stay home, protect yourself and protect others so that the Health Service can protect us all.”
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