A consultant paediatrician at South West Acute Hospital has said that it was important that the Western Trust “honoured” their promise to the public that paediatric and neonatal inpatient services returned to South West Acute Hospital.

These inpatient services were closed at SWAH as part of the first step of a five step regional plan to deal with the expectant surge of Covid-19 patients across Northern Ireland.

The plan to reduce the services at SWAH was made on April 3 by the Health Minister but after the expectant surge did not materialise, the decision has been made to return inpatient services to the pre Covid-19 configuration.

Dr. Nick Lipscomb, a senior paediatric consultant at SWAH explained that the public had shown their faith in the NHS and that the return of the services to SWAH was something that everyone wanted to see happen: “I think it is very important that those services return. The public has been behind the NHS and behind the whole programme to limit Covid but we told them that this was a temporary change and therefore we have to actually be seen to be honouring that it was a temporary change. From our point of view, it was only temporary and from our point of view we are chomping at the bit to take care and look after patients’ needs,” he explained.

Speaking about the overall situation relating to Covid-19, Dr. Lipscomb was very candid in saying that the public played a huge role in preventing a worst case scenario occurring within Northern Ireland: “I think everyone in the Western Trust and in Northern Ireland as a whole are very relieved that the surge that we feared was coming, having seen what was happening in Italy and London and elsewhere, was not as severe here in Northern Ireland. And that has been in large part due to the work the public has done in staying at home, and social distancing and all of that,” he explained before adding that the extra time that Northern Ireland was afforded also helped greatly: “And also because of the preparation that we took and the fact that we had that little bit of extra time being that little bit further down the chain of things allowed us to be able to flatten he curve here in Northern Ireland compared to Italy and London”

With respect to the five-step regional plan that saw the closure of inpatient paediatrics and neonatal at SWAH Dr. Lipscomb said it was important to plan for a worst case scenario and that for the sickest most vulnerable children vital services in some forms had to be maintained: “I think at the stage of making that five step plan we were expecting things to be an awful lot worse than fortunately they have been and we needed to make sure that if, as we were hearing, a quarter or a third of the staff were off sick and every bed was full with people suffering from Covid-19 how could you make sure that those vital services, especially for sick children, were maintained. You could not continue to run everywhere. You had to make sure that something was left, no matter how bad things got so we could keep our children safe and that is what the plan was about. Fortunately, we never got that far of needing the full five steps of the plan.”

The senior consultant explained that that “from next Monday we will be opening the inpatient services and we will then look at seeing how we increase more outpatient activity but that is going to be further down the line. And that is something that not just paediatrics, but everyone is looking at,” before concluding by paying tribute to his colleagues who he said have been brilliant throughout the Covid-19 pandemic: “The staff have been excellent. They have been very flexible and ready to go and work in other hospitals and also in other areas of our hospital. But yes, the staff are very relieved that they will be back working in our environment, providing the care that they have trained for and that they love to provide. As a whole body of staff, we are feeling very relieved that we can get back to our core business of looking after the children.”