Doctors welcome measures to support frontline healthcare workers

Publication date: 20 March 2020

Senior medical leaders in Northern Ireland have welcomed measures to support health professionals working on the frontline in hospitals, GP surgeries, emergency departments and community healthcare settings announced by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and Health Minister Robin Swann (19 March 2020).

Yesterday the scale of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic was described by Health Minister Swann to be of 'biblical proportions' and that potentially Northern Ireland could be facing 9-15,000 deaths.

Over the past few weeks health professionals in NI have described the need for more Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and the expansion of testing for the virus. We welcome the news yesterday from the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride that the testing of healthcare workers in self-isolation will begin, supporting our colleagues to work safely.

Against a backdrop of the rising impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaders from Northern Ireland's medical colleges have stressed the need to support health care colleagues who are working incredibly hard to deliver best levels of patient care under extremely challenging circumstances.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England, Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Glasgow, Royal College of Radiologists, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health, Royal College of Anaesthetists' Northern Ireland Board, Royal College of Ophthalmologists, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Pathologists, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh collectively represent thousands of medical professionals in Northern Ireland.

"We welcome the urgent written statement by the health minister on preparations for the impact of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, issued yesterday," the Royal Colleges said.

"This unprecedented pandemic is challenging the health care systems of virtually every country across the world and Northern Ireland is no exception. Staff throughout the service are continuing to work hard in hugely difficult circumstances to ensure patients are being treated and cared for safely. Despite these best efforts we know that lives will be lost. Sadly, Northern Ireland has suffered the first of those losses this week.

"As leaders of the medical profession, we welcome the Minister's plan and his recognition of the commitment of healthcare staff. They need support and protection to deliver care in a manner that protects both patients and healthcare workers. While we are pleased with the reassurances around the supply of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), we ask him to implement his measures urgently, given the concerns raised by medical professionals across the HSC.

"Early warning of any proposed changes to the PPE protocol as new evidence emerges, is critical to ensuring confidence in the system. Our Colleges will work closely with the Minister and the wider service to disseminate any such evidence. Curbing the spread of infection will only be possible if best practice guidance is available and strictly followed.

"We recognise in these unprecedented times the need to work together. Where previously boundaries existed between general practice and hospital staff, between those who work during the day and those who work at night, these divisions must fade away to allow us to face this challenge as one united health team.

"With the growing circulation of the virus and increasing numbers of healthcare workers self-isolating, there is an immediate challenge to the whole system. We need to ensure staff are free from Covid-19, so that if they are well, or when they are recovered, they can make a quick return to work. The experience and skills of frontline staff is needed now more than ever.

"With regard to the updated guidance on Covid-19 testing, we commend our colleagues in HSC Laboratory Services for the rapid expansion in capacity, and will support their efforts to grow this further over the coming weeks. It is essential to the continued operation of our services that frontline health and social care staff have access to testing, to protect not only the delivery of services, but also staff in their own right, and their families. The Minister and his team must move swiftly to ensure access to this testing.

"The increase in beds and equipment to deal with the numbers of patients we expect is also welcome. We commend our colleagues across the HSC family for their combined efforts to enable the repurposing of our facilities. Our members and colleagues across the various disciplines will continue to work flexibly to assist this team effort.

"There's no doubt that we face a serious and rapidly evolving situation which requires strong leadership and the commitment of everyone delivering health and social care in Northern Ireland. We offer the Minister, his team and our wider HSC colleagues our full support. We are in this together to deliver the best possible care for our patients."

Further Information

RCS press office
020 7869 6056


Notes to editor

The urgent written statement by the health minister on preparations for the impact of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 issued yesterday is available on the Department of Health website.

The Royal College of General Practitioners is the largest membership organisation in the United Kingdom solely for GPs. It aims to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and to act as the 'voice' of GPs on issues concerned with education; training; research; and clinical standards. Founded in 1952, the RCGP has just over 50,000 members who are committed to improving patient care, developing their own skills and promoting general practice as a discipline. RCGPNI represents over 1400 members. Dr Dorman became chair of RCGPNI in November 2019.

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