The Western Trust has confirmed that 200 staff members remain absent from work due to the coronavirus.
Those workers are based in the Northern sector which takes in Derry, Strabane and Limavady.
It comes after the Derry News revealed earlier this month that 808 workers were off across the Trust area because of COVID-19 - the illness that can affect your lungs and airways which is caused by coronavirus.
Of those employees, 300 worked at Altnagelvin Hospital. There was a relatively even split between the numbers self-isolating due to symptoms of their own and those isolating because family members had symptoms.
Testing has been ramped up in different parts of NI, including Derry where a facility has just opened at City of Derry Rugby Club, to ensure that health and social care staff are kept safe.
It is also hoped that testing will allow staff who are following government guidelines by isolating - but are not actually sick - to return to work so they can assist during the first wave of coronavirus cases.
However, according to the latest figures available 200 staff members are still absent.
In a statement to the Derry News on Friday, a spokesperson for the Western Trust confirmed: “Whilst a number of staff have returned to work following a period of absence some staff have commenced new episodes of absence related to coronavirus.
“The total number of staff absent as at 15th April is 200. Since the introduction of testing on 28th March 2020 and up to 15th April 2020 a total of 501 Northern Sector staff have been tested – this covers both hospital and community staff.”
Approximately 1,000 people responded to a workforce appeal by the Trust to allow it to cope with an increased demand on services in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
That included retired doctors and student nurses who have joined the frontline.
A quarter of those applicants have commenced work in a range of roles.
A spokesperson explained. “The Trust recently launched a workforce appeal for staff and have appointed 242 staff to date.
“The recruitment team is continuing to process a large number of applications.”
Northern Ireland is nearing the end of what was described as the first wave of cases which was expected to peak between April 6-20.
Under this ‘reasonable worst case scenario’, the projected number of cumulative COVID-19 deaths in Northern Ireland over 20 weeks of the epidemic would be 3,000. The latest Public Health Agency (PHA) bulletin, as of April 19, reports 194 deaths.
It is believed that this peak may be less severe than first anticipated but last Thursday saw the highest daily rise with 18 COVID related deaths in NI hospitals.
That total was matched on Friday and a further 137 people tested positive, a development Health Minister Robin Swann described was a ‘wake up call’ as he warned against complacency.
On Saturday a further 17 deaths were registered and one more person was added to the overall death toll on Sunday.
Almost 16,500 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Northern Ireland - over 4,000 of them health care workers.
The current target is set at over 1,000 tests per day with a view to scaling up over time and expanding priority groups. The test centre at City of Derry Rugby Club will assist with that upscaling.
Criticism has been levelled at the government for limited testing in the community and contact tracing as that will be crucial when it comes to estimating population immunity and designing an exit strategy to move out of the current lockdown.
Speaking last week Minister of Health Robin Swann said: “Testing of health care workers has been a key priority of mine and I am glad that in recent weeks we have tested over 4,000 of our frontline staff.
“That’s important for them, and it’s also important for the people they support such as the residents in our care homes.”
He continued: ”An expert working group has also been established to lead on the expansion of testing across all our laboratory services, both within Health and Social Care facilities, and also to consider options for the utilisation of other testing facilities including within the commercial sector.
“There is a NI Testing Strategy that has already been shared with the Executive and the Health Committee. In that I have made it clear that the overall testing policy will be adjusted over time as testing capacity increases, and priority groups for testing are expanded.
“Similarly the strategy also includes a pledge that testing will soon move towards surveillance of COVID-19 in the population to inform planning of services including surge capacity, and to estimate population immunity.“
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