EXHAUSTED: A health worker at City Hospital takes a breather from unloading PPE. Picture by Gary Johnston.
EXHAUSTED: A health worker at City Hospital takes a breather from unloading PPE. Picture by Gary Johnston.

Amidst the concern of deaths, heading to being the worst in Europe, the joy of Boris and the pride of now, Colonel, Tom, the Stormont Health Committee met yesterday to re-question the Health Minister and his advisers since they had not performed well last week ( a sort of resit) but this week they were otherwise busy. (Could you give that excuse at Queen’s for an oral?)

In their places were the Business Services Organisation ‘the logistics’ of NI Health and Social Care services called this because they are meant to integrate the health service with the personal social care of our care homes for our nearest and dearest

BSO were represented by Liam McIvor and Peter Wilson who gave a somewhat lengthy briefing. The four nations approach — NHS England and our fellow Celts in NHS Cymru and NHS Scotland — had served us well along with O’Neills of the Tír Eoghain jerseys and those who made home made ‘mig-welding’ visors when the proper PPPF3 visors were not available, which is often for care home nurses, assistants and workers.

We were told of the £illions supplied — but of no comfort when you haven’t been sent enough. There were links with the Health Services Executive health service in Dublin but apart from the agreement to use the Oxygenator (ECMO) at the Mater Hospital in Dublin (25% mortality only) for anyone from Belfast who was sick enough (like someone from a care home?) and could survive the ambulance journey, little co-buying had occurred in China etc.

Most collaboration had been with NHS Cyrmu in Caerdyd. One hospital in GB had been supplied with cagoules, a waterproof style poncho, instead of the proper protective operating theatre gowns.

The pair were asked about NHS England’s (‘mainland’) led ‘Cygnus’, a dry run for an epidemic. Was there a subsequent detailed plan? Gerry Carroll (PBP) raised supply to private companies and got the stock reply of "ask Policy Branch".

Plenty of excuses stockpiled but not enough Personal Protection Equipment for carers to safely care for our nearest and dearest in this awful pandemic, ‘The Black Death of 2020’.

When asked who policy branch reported to, the Committee was told "Emergency Planning"Are these the culprits for this lack of planning?

When told that they difficulties were "unforeseeable", they were rebuked by the chair who said that they were "unforeseen".

Pam Cameron (DUP) asked the statutory army question ("They are too busy in England.") Pat Sheehan (SF) asked about the widely reported shortage of EU-made drugs such as Morphine (and Probanthine and Profolol) and was told that hospitals have to order from, say, the Belfast Trust. They surely should be asked about these vital drug stocks. Are they low because of Brexit? Is that why the British would not buy Siemens ventilators from Germany or ECMO from Meditronics in Galway?

The discussion of the budget and Health Protection seemed banal afterwards and the chair stated that he would be asking Policy Branch to the next meeting. Will they have colourful excuses or hide behind their masters in Emergency Planning?

As Oliver Cromwell beseeched: "Gentlemen, think it possible that you may have been mistaken?"

No thinking the possible at Castle Buildings at Stormont.

Dr Michael Donnelly MB, BCh, BAO is a clinical epidemiologist.

Full proceedings of yesterday's Health Committee can be seen below.