08 Dec 2021

Derry GP warns against loosening Covid nightclub restrictions

Vaccine passport withdrawal bad move with virus rates still high, says Dr Tom Black

Derry GP warns against loosening Covid nightclub restrictions

Dr Tom Black: "There will be no 'normal' in the Health Service this side of Easter."

Derry GP, Dr Tom Black has pleaded with the Executive at Stormont to keep Covid restrictions on nightclubs as they are or risk pushing the Health Service to the brink.

Plans to withdraw the production of a Covid certificate to gain entry into nightclubs could soon be introduced.

The hospitality sector has made no secret that the pandemic era has hit them hard and have been pushing to get some form of 'normality' back in order to kick-start the trade.

However, with Covid rates still high and a percentage of people still awaiting vaccinations, Dr Black – who is Chair of the Northern Ireland Council of the British Medical Association – feels to let people into nightclubs without proof of vaccine could have the knock-on affect of crippling an-already overwhelmed Health Service should it produce an increase in Covid rates.

He said: “In a situation where we have one hundred and seven per cent capacity in hospitals where there's hundreds of patients waiting to be admitted; where we have general practice, the ambulance service and the wards all be overwhelmed; to loosen restrictions with such a high rate of Covid is not the way to go forward.

“I appreciate that I speak on behalf of doctors, our patients and the needs of those patients. There is a responsibility on us which is written into our terms of service and our GMC (General Medical Council) guidelines.

“If there are patients at risk, we are obliged to put our hands up and identify that risk to the public.

“We are going into the flu season, we have very high levels of Covid, we're going into winter and we'll have no capacity in the hospitals. We know that because they are at over-capacity.

“If your Granny gets the flu and then gets pneumonia, we would normally send her into hospital by an ambulance to an A&E department which has hundreds of patients waiting to be admitted.

“Can we promise that we can ensure that service for our patients this winter? No we can't.

“To make the decision like this where we know the inevitable consequence will be to increase infection rates, and therefore admission rates, I think we have to stand back and go 'no'.

“So we put our hands up and say (on re-opening nightclubs) 'that is a stupid idea, please do not do that'. The service is under enough pressure and this will make it worse.”

Dr Black realises his comments will not be what some members of the public will want to hear, but insists he would not be doing his job if he did not speak out given that doctors, surgeons, nurses and paramedics are on the verge of burn-out and potentially leaving the medical profession because of this.

He added: “We have a professional obligation and I'm getting fierce abuse on social media where I'm being called names. But what can you say? This is my job – I'm obliged to do this.

“Everyone's entitled to their own opinions but they're not entitled to their own facts.

“Staff are worn out – some are even burnt out. They're very stressed and trying their very best.

“They're all looking at their resignation letters and their pensions and we have a huge concern in the profession that we will lose a lot of doctors this winter.

“There is such a hostile environment, not just in the workplace but also within the media as a couple of certain newspapers have been appalling in their behaviour over the last couple of months.

“Sajid Javid (Minister for Health & Social Care) and the Government in London who take responsibility for the English Health Service have been appalling in their behaviour as well.

“The front page of one of the UK papers today has a story about GPs voting for strike action in England because their jobs have been made impossible by stupid, bureaucratic nonsense from politicians.

“I should point out that our own Health Minister, Robin Swann is – thank goodness – hard-working and doing a great job. There's no threat of strike action here as we are working well with the Department of Health and the Minister.”

Dr Black says he can appreciate why the general public long for a return of how life used to be before the pandemic.

However, he insists the only – and quickest – way to achieving this lies with the public themselves.

He continued: “I think there's a great appetite to 'wish this away' and to assume that we can get back to normal.

“But there will be no 'normal' in the Health Service this side of Easter. We're going to have a dreadful time for the next four or five months at least.

“Society wants things to go back to normal but do you know what? This is a pandemic – a once in a century event.

“We know that the previous pandemic of 1918 with the 'Spanish Flu' didn't go away for a couple of years.

“I don't think anybody is going to use the word 'lockdown' but the enforcement of restrictions such as mask-wearing, social-distancing, washing of hands and vaccinations will be highlighted.

“The key to this is vaccinations. We've got eighteen per cent over those aged over twelve not vaccinated. Most of them are young people.

“Most of them need to pay some due respect to their friends, neighbours and relatives and take the responsibility on. Because there is a civic responsibility to get a vaccination.

“To sit on the sidelines and say 'I'm alright Jack' is not good enough – go and get your vaccine.”

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