COVID-19: ‘No capacity’ – Northern Ireland pleads for armed forces to help ‘exhausted’ hospital staff with patients

Northern Ireland has pleaded for the military to help hospital services, saying they are “under pressure as never before” in the COVID crisis.

Health minister Robin Swann said staff are “exhausted” and that he was “determined to activate any measure that can alleviate the situation in any way”.

Earlier, he appealed to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to send up to 100 armed forces medics to Northern Ireland to support two hospitals that are struggling to deal with the number of coronavirus patients.

Sky News understands the requirement is for 80 to 100 military medics to support Belfast City Hospital and Ulster Hospital in Dundonald for the whole of October.

“We have received a request for MACA [Military Aid to the Civilian Authorities],” a defence source said. “It is being looked at.”

A decision is expected to be made next week.

In a statement Mr Swann said he was “determined to activate any measure that can alleviate the situation in any way”.

“The current situation is different to the pressures in the earlier stages of the pandemic,” he said. “We have the ongoing and serious COVID threat combined with a growing pressure cooker environment right across health and social care.

“Staff are exhausted, having been facing the pandemic and its repercussions day in, day out, month in, month out, for the best part of two years. I am deeply concerned about the pressures they are facing.

“I say this to them directly – please be assured of the heartfelt support and gratitude from me as Minister and from the people of Northern Ireland. Thank you for your ongoing work and dedication and for going far, far beyond the extra mile.

“I am very well aware of just how tough it is. The system simply doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the levels of need and demand coming in.”

The army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force provided thousands of personnel to help with the government’s response to the COVID pandemic across the UK since the crisis began.

The number of MACA operations has dropped significantly in recent months, however.

It means the number of service personnel currently involved in anything related to this mission is very small.

The Northern Ireland request would be a marked increase.

Mr Swann went on: “Strenuous efforts are being made to mitigate the pressures and to plan for winter.

“We all need to support our health service and its staff. Please do everything you can to stop COVID spreading.

“Please get your vaccine – first and second doses. Getting vaccinated is the single most important thing you can do for the health service and its staff as we face into winter.

“Every vaccine jab is another brick in the defences of our health service.”

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