Chief Executive of the Western Health and Social Care Trust Dr. Anne Kilgallen has provided a detailed update on the Covid-19 response during a Board meeting in which she warned, “we cannot afford to let down our guard.

“Now more than ever we must be vigilant.”

Immediately prior to the meeting Dr. Kilgallen had greeted the Western  Trust’s new intake of doctors.

She described the medical students who completed their courses earlier than expected had dispensed with any plans for holidays or breaks “and stepped right up to their roles.”

Repeating a colleague’s remarks, she added the Class of 2020: “Will be legends at some future time.”

Moving to her report. Dr Kilgallen explained the formal Covid emergency response plan is now in Week 10.

The first patient was admitted to a Western Trust hospital on March 9 and 918 patients have been admitted across the facilities with symptoms suggestive of Covid, with 124 testing positive.

Sadly, 26 people have died in Western Trust hospitals either with Covid or as a contributory factor, and Dr Kilgallen noted: “Every one of us has had experience of the absence of the usual rituals around a death, so our hearts must go out to all bereaved.”

She pointed to increased “flipping” of designated Covid beds, to non-Covid due to increased Emergency Department footfall, as more people present with other critical, but non-Covid related conditions.

The Western Trust is now at Phase 1 of the Surge Response with one designated ward in South West Acute Hospital, and Phase 2 status in Altnagelvin, which has two wards, although “de-escalating” to one has begun.

“From a hospital perspective, we are at a very different position from that which was predicted, thanks to the extraordinary commitment of people in our communities to stay at home,” Dr. Kilgallen said.

However, she warned: “We cannot afford to let down our guard.

“Now more than ever we must be vigilant and follow advice to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

Dr. Kilgallen referenced some remarks made by staff during the current situation, one of whom was impressed by the speed of decision-making, such as when something was initially deemed necessary then found needed, it was stood down swiftly.

Another praised the “candid honesty from management, in actually admitting to not knowing the right answer, which is much more reassuring than silence.”.

Dr Kilgallen stressed: “We all agree with that.

“It is so important.”

Procedures in Intensive Care Units, in which relatives were given daily update and Facetime calls was particularly welcomed, with Dr. Kilgannon adding.

“There will be history written about that in times to come.”

Staff testing services were: “A bit of a challenge in the beginning, but did get up and running within about a week.

“It is now an established service for Trust and Non-Trust staff in the independent sector.”

It emerged the Western Trust was the first to have centres for GP patients testing.

Over 280 new staff were brought in to support wider pandemic response issues, including cleaning, laundering, catering and portering, she explained.

With hospitals much more settled, Dr. Kilgallen voiced remaining concerns on the spread of infections in care homes.

“The real focus in now on our community and particularly, the care home sector,” she said.

While sharing statistics from the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) she pointed out some issues around reliability at this early stage.

There are 1,579 people in care facilities in the Western Trust, and further 142 beds are vacant.

As of May 6, there were 25 residents symptomatic of Covid. Across the homes, 224 residents have been tested, of which 50 were positive.

A further 73 are self-isolating.

Six staff are currently symptomatic, 198 staff have been tested of which 16 were positive.

There are 12 homes across the Trust in which there are clusters of either flu-like symptoms or Covid positives.

In context, Dr. Kilgallen felt the statistics were: “Relatively small, but this is not intended to suggest we are in any way complacent about the scale of the challenge.”

A team overseeing community response is meeting every day, with support for all adults requiring care, she explained.

This focuses on a three-strand approach of prevention, mitigation and support.

There are also Covid-specific domiciliary care teams operating in in both Trust and Independent sector providers, as well as multiple community rapid response teams, who act quickly following GP referrals.

In closing Dr. Kilgallen commended all staff across the Trust, in particular: “Managers at every level, team leaders, clinical leads, social work leaders across all sections, who intuitively and collectively provided outstanding service … our staff have worked so flexibly, with commitment on such a challenge,” said Dr. Kilgallen.