AN Emergency Department Consultant at the Mater Hospital says frontline health workers are ready to deal with the upcoming surge in Covid-19 patients.

The Belfast Trust this week designated the Crumlin Road hospital as the main site for treating Covid-19 patients.

Dr Eoghan Ferrie, Emergency Department Consultant at the Mater, stressed that many people who contract Coronavirus will only experience mild symptoms that can be managed through self-isolation. Those who need acute care will be channelled to the Mater. 

“There has been a lot of discussion and planning for a number of weeks when we realised what was coming our way," said Dr Ferrie. 

“We have redirected more resources to the Mater site as a result, including staff from respiratory, critical care and emergency department teams. It is a big bit of work but it should put us in a good position to cope with what is coming.”

The capacity of the Mater to treat Covid-19 patients will depend on adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff.

“Because of the requirement for PPE amongst staff, there is no like-for-like bed number,” he explained.

“Each ward will be able to accommodate a certain number of  Covid-19 positive patients. The intensive care unit (ICU) has space for six patients with ventilators. Other parts of the hospital such as day procedure units can be transformed and staffed to accommodate a much higher number of ventilated patients.

"The problem is that Covid-19 patients do not always present in the typical way with a cough and a fever. We have been stepping up PPE to try and protect staff from the atypical symptoms.”

Amid fears that the number of people locally who have contracted Coronavirus  is “two weeks behind Italy”, Dr Ferrie said his focus was on flattening the upward curve of the virus.

“ It is hard to know at this stage how much impact all the government guidance on social isolation, hand washing, prevention of mass gatherings etc has had," he said. “The whole point of these is to try and flatten the curve of new cases. If we can keep the rate of surge to a manageable level, we will be able to cope.

“I think culture and geography has much to do with the spread but we are in unchartered territory at the same time.”

The top Mater consultant says everybody has a role to play during this crisis.

“I want to thank the public for continuing to adhere to advice coming through each day. There has been a significant reduction in number of patients using emergency departments across the North. This means the public are choosing wisely and using other routes to access medical treatment and support."

And he had praise for his fellow NHS workers. “The healthcare community is united in fighting Covid-19 and I would like to thank all of our staff for the excellent work they are carrying out to protect public health.”

On Tuesday morning, the Mater closed its Emergency Department to walk-in admissions and all non-respiratory ambulances admissions have been diverted to the Royal Victoria Hospital.