A life-saving oxygen machine will be available for British PM Boris Johnson if he becomes critically ill from coronavirus but the same ECMO machine is not an option for anyone in Belfast.

That's the shock claim by a South Belfast doctor Micheal Donnelly who has called for life-saving ECMO machines to be bought for local hospitals on the coronavirus frontline.

"If it's good enough for Boris, then it should be good enough for the ordinary woman or man from the Falls or the Shankill," he said.

The failure by the Health Department here to purchase ECMO machines for the Covid-19 critical care facilities at the City and Mater hospitals is indicative of Health Department "inertia", says Dr Donnelly. 

"Health Minister Robin Swann has refused to purchase an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine (ECMO) for use here, suggesting critically-ill patients will be flown to Newcastle, England, to access equipment there," says Dr Donnelly. "But that's just not going to happen. It would be reckless in the extreme for nursing staff to take a highly-infectious patient on an airplane and fly them an hour to Newcastle. And, by the time they got there, the patient would be dead."

Dr Donnelly estimates four per cent of those likely to die from Covid-19 in the imminent surge would live if they had access to an ECMO machine. That's around 30 people, some of them young and healthy."

 Dr Michael Donnelly: "Health Department not doing well."[/caption]
Dr Michael Donnelly: "Health Department not doing well."[/caption]

Dr Donnelly describes the ECMO machine as a "kidney machine for the lungs". "The coronavirus attacks the lungs and after a few days it attacks the bottom of the lungs, where oxygen gets out into the blood stream. The ventilator simply pumps air in and out of the lungs, it doesn't get the oxygen into the bloodstream so when the lungs become too damaged you can ventilate a patient all you want but it won't make any difference."

Retailing at around £100,000, ECMO machines are manufactured by Medtronic Ireland in Galway and there is still ready availability around the world, says Dr Donnelly. "The reality is that, in some of these coronavirus cases, instead of sending for O'Kane's Funeral Directors, doctors should be able to send for the ECMO."

Dr Donnelly says he has been shocked by "the inertia"of the health department. "There is not one area in which they are doing well," he said. 

Dubbed the "miracle machine" by health professionals in the US. According to Kaiser Health News, "ECMO is the most aggressive form of life support available, (it) pumps blood out of the body, oxygenates it and returns it to the body, keeping a person alive for days, weeks or months, even when their heart or lungs don’t work."