The “answer lies in the community and in the community acting as one”.

That was the clear message from Professor Ronan O’Hare, Assistant Medical Director at South West Acute Hospital this week who, at a media briefing at on Tuesday, said that the public must play their part in helping each other.

“The community issue is so important. And it is so important that the community follows the PHA guidelines and it is very important that the community look after the staff. The community must stand together and ensure that people self-isolate and to make sure that those people who are self-isolating can survive self-isolation and also to make sure that health workers and staff can actually get to work.”

The Western Health and Social Care Trust is finalising surge plans to be implemented as the virus continues to spread with Geraldine McKay, Director of Acute Services, explaining that there will be changes to other services in the coming weeks and that the public can expect changes.

“On Friday the Minister made his statement around the importance of channelling resources into different areas and he made a decision and his department made a decision on standing down routine work and the purpose of that was to make sure that clinicians can go and train for the work that they will be doing over the next number of weeks.

“The message to the community is that if they need to be seen then they will be see. If they don’t have to come to the hospital then they may get a telephone call, but if they have a routine appointment they may not be seen.

“And it is important that the community support our staff to get through the next period of time.”

Mrs. McKay stressed however that those “patients who needed to be seen would be seen” and that there was no alteration to urgent hospital treatment such as for cancer and other red flag areas while she also stressed that recent work surrounding the Pathfinder initiative would assist in getting the message out to the community.

“We have made some really good connections through Pathfinder in this area and it is very important that we keep those connections robust and solid at this time.

“We can help each other, the community and the hospital, staff and all of us together and as we go forward, we will learn how we can support each other. The focus at the minute is on the community to make sure they get the right information and know exactly what to do and take the pressure of the hospital at the minute.”

When asked directly about a threat to services such as meals on wheels and district nurse visits Professor O’Hare explained that it was a fluid situation.

“There is no planned disruption to it. But as this moves forward things are fluid and resources may need to be channelled elsewhere,” before again reiterating the point that “the way of getting through this, the answer lies in the community”.

“And that is what the regional planning is. The hospital will deal with things that are put at its door and will work through that.

We are well rehearsed, well trained and well structured but the answer will be in the community and in the community response and in the community acting together as one.”