The Department of Health has issued the first in a planned series of “mythbusters”, correcting inaccurate claims about Covid-19.
The first deals with the suggestions that Covid-19 patients are being prioritised over patients with other conditions.
Welcoming the first “mythbuster”, Health Minister Robin Swann said: “Patients are treated according to clinical priority, as determined by specialist clinicians. Our hospitals are doing their absolute best to care for everyone, and that includes treating the sickest quickest. It is untrue and offensive for anyone to accuse frontline staff of prioritising one condition over another.”
Are Covid-19 patients being prioritised over other patients?
No, they are not. Patients are treated according to clinical priority. Clinical priority is determined by specialist clinical staff.
It is certainly the case that the current surge in Covid-19 cases has placed serious pressures on the health service, and that this is affecting treatments for other conditions. That’s down to capacity, not because some conditions have higher status than others.
A proportion of people who test positive for Covid will become critically ill and require life-saving treatment in intensive care units (ICUs).
Hospitals have had to scale up ICU capacity over a number of weeks – to care for growing number of very ill Covid patients as well as patients with other conditions who also need intensive care.
The scaling up of ICU has required specialist staff to be redeployed from other parts of the hospital. This includes nurses trained to work in operating theatres and post-operative care – as they have specialist skills that fit best with intensive care.
Redeploying staff has unfortunately meant that some elective treatments – scheduled surgery and other procedures – have had to be postponed. Every effort is being made to re-schedule these patients as soon as possible. Sadly, some red flag cancer procedures are among those to have been postponed. That is matter of greater regret and distress to everyone in the health service. These cases will be prioritised for re-scheduling.
The health service only has one workforce and it can only be stretched so far. Staff are under incredible pressure and are exhausted.
Well before this pandemic, we were already short of the staff we needed to meet growing demand for health care in society. Important initiatives are in place to rectify that situation but it is a long-term challenge. It takes years to train up specialist nurses and doctors. There are no quick fixes here.
Our hospitals are doing their absolute best to care for everyone, and that includes treating the sickest quickest. It is incredibly offensive for anyone to accuse frontline staff of prioritising one condition over another.
The best way to ease the pressure on our health service and its staff is to drive down Covid infection rates. That’s how we can free up more capacity so that more treatments can be provided for non-Covid patients.
We must all help to do that – by reducing our contacts with other people, keeping our distance, wearing a face covering, washing our hands and abiding by the Covid regulations.
That’s how we protect each other and all of the health service.