The chief executives of the six Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland have issued a warning about 'unbearable pressures' across the health service in the event of a 'probable' further COVID-19 spike in early January.
“Several of Northern Ireland’s acute hospitals are already operating beyond capacity and flow through hospitals has been seriously impacted by required restrictions as a result of COVID-19," the health chiefs said in a joint statement.
"Add pre-existing staffing pressures and staff absence due to COVID-19 infection, or the need to self-isolate, and there is a very real risk that hospitals will be overwhelmed in the event of a further COVID-19 spike in January.
“We are not making this point lightly and as a result, we are appealing to the public to be extremely cautious over the festive period and to take all necessary precautions to stop the virus spreading.
“On behalf of all of our colleagues in health and social care, we can’t stress enough how extremely grateful we are to the people of Northern Ireland for all the sacrifices they have made in 2020, in response to this pandemic.
“There has been a massive effort across society to combat the COVID-19 threat and many lives have undoubtedly been saved.
“We really need to maintain that collective spirit as the health service faces into its most difficult time of the year. We all want to relax, we all need to relax, over the Christmas period but that does not mean that we can ease up on our efforts to prevent COVID-19 spreading further.
“The needs of those waiting for operations and other treatments also continue to weigh heavily on our minds.
"Rising numbers of COVID cases, hospital admissions and ICU admissions mean there will be ongoing restricted capacity for non-COVID care.
"But unfortunately staff simply cannot do two jobs at the same time. The best way to protect non-COVID care is to push down COVID infections.
“We are also collectively placing on record our thanks and deep appreciation to all of our staff.
"There are no words to properly describe the incredible resilience, professionalism and compassion that we continue to witness every day from staff who are exhausted, physically and mentally, and traumatised as a result of this pandemic.
"This has been the most challenging year of their lives and we pay tribute to them all. Of course many staff will also be working over the holiday period and we give special thanks to them.
“All staff certainly deserve downtime with their families over the festive season. And they are entitled to enjoy Christmas without a feeling of dread about what they will be facing by the New Year.
“2021 can be a year of hope for us all as the vaccine programme rolls out over the course of many months. However, we first have to get through what we now face for the remainder of this winter period.
“Please play your part this Christmas and take no risks whatsoever in terms of actions that by now we all know will increase the spread of the virus. It is extremely infectious but it doesn’t move itself, people move it. We all can and must remember that.”
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