27 Sept 2022

Altnagelvin Hospital trials COVID-19 relaxations

A patient who was recently admitted to the Derry hospital has raised concerns


Over 300 staff members at Altnagelvin Hospital are self-isolating because of coronavirus

The Western Trust has confirmed that a ‘pilot test’ to relax COVID-19 guidelines is ongoing at Altnagelvin Hospital.

The pilot is concentrated in one ward of the hospital.

Until this point the Trust said that two patients were placed on four bed wards but that will now be increased to three patients.

Before any patient is admitted to this ward they have to be considered ‘low-risk’, COVID-19 negative and social distancing must be maintained, according to the Trust.

It’s understood that the trial is taking place on Ward 4 – General Surgery.

Initially, the Trust refused to confirm whether this trial was being put into practice or discussed at board level.

On June 3, a spokesperson for the Western Trust said, as per Department of Health guidelines, all patients who are admitted to hospital, regardless of their condition are swabbed for COVID-19.

She added: “Patients who are considered to be COVID suspected (ie: displaying respiratory symptoms) will follow the COVID pathway to the COVID Ward in Altnagelvin, where patients will remain until their results are confirmed.

“If a patient tests COVID positive they will remain in COVID Ward for treatment. Patients who are COVID negative will be transferred to an appropriate ward to treat their condition.”

However, when the concerns of patients and staff were put to them, the Trust issued a revised statement the following day in which it acknowledged that a ‘pilot test’ was indeed taking place.

On June 4, a spokesperson for the Trust stated: “All patients are tested on admission for COVID-19.

“Careful consideration was given to increasing the use of four bedded wards in the Tower Block at Altnagelvin Hospital from two patients to three patients and this included a pilot test in one of the ward areas.

“Three criteria were identified to assess and manage the risk of caring for patients in this low risk area.  

“The criteria is; the patients were considered low risk, were COVID-19 negative and social distancing could be maintained. The pilot test is ongoing and is being monitored closely.

“This pilot test is designed to allow the hospital to safely and incrementally increase its capacity and carefully manage the need to provide for patients admitted with urgent and emergency care needs and for Non  COVID-19 patients needing treatment and care.    

“The Trust has a robust process in place for managing its response to COVID-19, with staff and patient safety at the centre of our decision–making.”


A man who was recently treated for a ‘life-threatening infection’ in the ward has raised concerns about the operation of the trial.

He claimed that another patient was admitted to his room without a COVID test and did not believe that three patients per room allowed them to properly social distance.

The man who spoke to the Derry News, but who did not want to be named, claimed there was a sense of ‘fear and anxiety’ amongst patients and staff.

On the advice of the government, the man has self-isolated for months and he fears a change in hospital policy at this stage could put patients at risk.

He said: “The nurses and doctors that I have spoken to all agree the decision is reckless and dangerous for both staff and patients.

“I understand they are testing this out on the ward while all other wards are keeping the two patients per room and isolation for new admissions to ensure safety.”

The matter was raised with SDLP representatives in the city who contacted the Northern Ireland Health Minister.

Foyle MLA Sinead McLaughlin said: “I have received a complaint from a constituent about allegations that social distancing is not being observed within one of the wards at Altnagelvin – and some patients have not been tested for COVID-19.

“I have written to Health Minister Robin Swann to ask on what basis these safeguards have been relaxed and whether this was done with ministerial approval.”

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