Covid-19: Visiting suspended across NI hospitals

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image captionTrusts have appealed to the public not to arrange meetings with patients on hospital sites

Hospitals across Northern Ireland have suspended most visiting in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The restrictions, effective across all five health trusts, follow new advice from the Department of Health.

On Wednesday, the health minister said tighter guidelines would be introduced.

"I have ensured visiting will be permitted to hospices and care homes, but visits to general medical wards will no longer be permitted," said Robin Swann.

Guidance for hospital visiting is broken down into five alert levels, Alert Level 5 came into effect on Friday.

In it, there is no face-to-face visiting, however there are some exceptions including end of life visits.

In hospice facilities, one friend, family member or carer can visit for an hour a day where the environment is assessed as "Covid secure".

In paediatric units, one nominated parent can attend.

In maternity wards, a birth partner will be admitted during active labour and birth. They will also be allowed to accompany a pregnant woman to a dating scan or early pregnancy clinic.

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A spokesperson for the Western Trust said: "The four UK chief medical officers have advised that we now move into Alert level 5, which requires the strictest of social distancing given the threat that health and social care services could become overwhelmed."

The trust recognised that restriction to visiting "is a very emotive and difficult issue, often causing distress for families, patients and residents".

However, it said that limited access was essential to help bring the transmission of Covid-19 under control.

The number of people in ICU has also risen from 44 to 58 in the past week and 16 further deaths were recorded on Thursday.

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Meanwhile, a respiratory doctor at Belfast's Mater Hospital has warned that hospital oxygen supplies are under "extreme pressure".

Vaccinations

Meanwhile, the family of an 80-year-old woman who is a patient in hospital have expressed their frustration about the current Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Roisin Henderson's mother Bernadette is currently a patient in Meadowlands at Musgrave Park Hospital after falling on New Year's Eve.

Although her mother qualifies for the Covid-19 jab in the current priority list, she cannot get it as she is recovering in hospital.

First Minister Arlene Foster has previously said it is hoped everyone over 80 will receive their first vaccination by the end of this month.

Ms Henderson told BBC NI's Good Morning Ulster programme that when she asked about a vaccine for her mother on Tuesday she was told by the hospital "they had no plans to do that at the minute".

She said she was "shocked" and felt "helpless".

Dr Alan Stout, the chair of NI's GP committee, said nobody was "deliberately denying" Ms Henderson's mother the vaccine.

Dr Stout said there was currently a "window of about two weeks where the hospitals and the trusts only have Pfizer vaccine".

"The trusts are also going to get a small amount of the other vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine and that will enable them to pick up certain other groups," he added.

He said he anticipated that in "two to three weeks" hospitals would be in a position to vaccinate those patients who have missed out to date.

In a statement, the Department of Health said: "At present eligible patients will be vaccinated by their GP after discharge from hospital, but plans are being developed which will allow Trusts to vaccinate eligible inpatients using the AstraZeneca vaccine."

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