A media briefing was held at South West Acute Hospital on Tuesday. In attendance was Professor Ronan O’Hare, Assistant Medical Director at SWAH and Geraldine McKay, Director of Acute Services at the Western Health and Social Care Trust. Below is an abridged version of the media briefing with Mrs. McKay speaking first about the staff within the WHSCT.

G. McKay - I really want to say something about our staff. As a Trust we have been preparing now for the past number of weeks. And I just want to acknowledge that our staff have been absolutely amazing. Their commitment, their time that they are giving to ensure that we have the correct pathways in place, they are also looking after themselves and their families which is really important, because we want them to remain at work and we need them to remain at work. It is so important that the staff know how brilliant they have been.

Q. - Is there a plan to take in more staff staff, from students and retired former staff?

R. O’Hare - There is a huge amount of planning that has gone in to this and there is a very structured way of dealing with this. We are planning to involve more staff and that will depend very much on how the hospital is stressed as it goes through dealing with this pandemic. All options are open to us and it will be planned on a regional basis. It won’t be the Western Trust alone. 

G. McKay- We are obviously in the middle of the planning phase at the minute. We are looking at senior members of our nursing staff and other clinical staff that have been undertaking roles that perhaps have not been frontline roles, we are asking those people to come out of those roles and support the frontline staff. 
There is some preparedness in that, in terms of upskilling and retraining.  

Q. - It was announced by the British Government that there would be more testing carried out. What does that mean on a practical local level?

G. McKAY - There is no plan at the minute and I know that is really hard to hear. But the guidance is as it is. The guidance right now is that we test patients who are for admission. 

Q. - So there has been no advice from any level above the WHSCT?
G. McKAY - It has not come to this region yet. As a region we are following that guidance.

Q. - Is that not frustrating, when the UK government has announced that there is to be more testing carried out?

G. McKAY - I think it is really important that Northern Ireland as a region has a collective approach so that the Trusts all work together. Irrespective of how individuals may feel, frustrations or otherwise, we are taking our advice from the Chief Medical Officer and the Public Health Agency (PHA) is the body that has been charged with producing the advice. 

Q. - Do you expect the guidance to change for testing?

R. O’HARE - The system is very fluid in relation to all of this... 
The advice and procedures could be different next week but the most important thing is that we are prepared and ready for those changes in guidelines and guidance. 

Q. - Can you explain how the plan for any increased testing reaches the Trust and is there enough tests and is there enough of the capacity to increase the volume of tests?

R. O’HARE - The number of tests performed and the way the tests are performed has changed and the number of tests that we are capable of doing are increasing. The way this works, the Public Health Agency give us a task and we will address that task. So if we get an instruction to increase the number of tests then we shall and that is how the structure works. 

G. McKAY - The PHA England, they produce the advice that is adopted by all the other countries so it comes down to the PHA here, so they normally follow PHA England advice unless our Department decide to change it.

R. O’HARE - It is our job to operationalise the decisions that are made... There is a very clear and simply structure that we follow. 

G. McKAY - Things are changing very quickly and they are changing every day so it is important to note that. 

Q. - Would you have any advice for the public around social media?

R O’HARE - There is a lot of fake news out there and a lot of discussions about remedies and how things are cured. There is no proven evidence. What is important as a community is to follow the guidance.