Health officials confident on protective equipment supplies in Northern Ireland

Health officials in Northern Ireland have said they are confident there is enough personal protective equipment in the region for now.

As the coronavirus pandemic progresses, supplies must be constantly replenished and some local manufacturers have re-purposed production lines, chief social worker Sean Holland said.

But he added he did not want to give false reassurance to NHS workers.

He said: “I think this is a frightening situation for everyone.

“We are all considering what might happen to us and our families.

“For those working directly in health and social care it is particularly frightening.”

He said officials were trying to provide the right equipment and ensure people were working as safely as possible.

“We are continuously trying to deepen our understanding of what works best in handling this pandemic,” he said.

“I just would be in awe of the commitment of those staff and I would not think it is my place to give them false reassurance.

“To try to minimise what they are doing would be an insult.”

Mr Holland gave evidence to the health committee of Assembly members at Stormont on Thursday.

Shipments containing million of items have been arriving from Great Britain.

Mr Holland said officials needed to be careful who received the stock.

He said: “At the moment we are confident that we have the personal protective equipment to meet the demand set by the guidelines.”

He said in a lot of cases involving social workers it was not needed, except where personal care was required.

Instead, standard social distancing measures should be practised.

One worker told the BBC’s Nolan Show: “Please, please listen to the domiciliary care workers out there.

“We are buckling on our knees with worry.”

The South Eastern Trust, which provides healthcare services, has said it is working to ensure protective supplies were being given to those who needed them.

Mr Holland added: “We are trying to develop guidelines in residential settings with young people who should be practising social isolation and who are not necessarily compliant with that.

“That is proving quite a challenge for social workers working with those young people.”

Alex Easton, a DUP Assembly member on the committee, alleged neither family members nor patient were consulted before a do not resuscitate notice was issued for someone who was conscious at the Ulster Hospital near Belfast.

He said: “Can you assure me that people’s lives are not being decided without consultation with their loved ones?

“If that is the case it is totally unacceptable.”

Mr Holland said: “My understanding is that these are decisions which ideally we should talk about when we are fit and well.

“These should be decisions with clinicians and family and carers.”

The Ulster is one of Northern Ireland’s main hospitals in the front line of the battle against Covid-19.