Belfast’s Mater Hospital prepared for potential second surge
A Belfast hospital is ready to contend with a potential second surge of the coronavirus pandemic, a senior official said.
The Mater Hospital is currently caring for a number of patients as they recover from Covid-19, a process that can take weeks to months.
There have been 4,469 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Northern Ireland so far, with numbers of patients in hospitals now dropping at the end of the first surge.
According to Department of Health figures on Saturday, there have been 505 deaths of patients with Covid-19.
As lockdown measures begin to be relaxed, Liz McAlea, interim co-director of unscheduled care at the Belfast Trust, said officials are prepared for a second surge if it comes.
“Now that everything has calmed down quite a bit as in numbers wise, we are still in preparedness for a second wave if another surge was to come,” she told the PA news agency.
“Although we have turned some of our wards into non-Covid wards, within the Mater we’re still prepared in case there is a second surge.
“I think we did really well, we had up to 105 patients with Covid-19 within the Mater Hospital, with 16 ventilated, and coped very well.
“Those numbers have gone down but we’re reassured that we’re prepared and the Nightingale is ready to step up again.”
Last Thursday, PA gained exclusive access to a recovery ward at the Mater.
Ms McAlea said there were 77 patients that day.
She said: “Some of our patients are quite debilitated with Covid-19 and they are going to need a lot of rehab, it does hit some people very hard.
“Some of the very sick patients that we have had back from the Nightingale hospital, we’d probably anticipate to have rehab for the next three to four months at least, and they would be quite young.
“Recovery time for our older patients would be up to two to three weeks and sometimes longer. It affects people in different ways.
“There is lethargy, lack of appetite and sometimes long-term breathlessness, but mostly it is similar to recovery from a really bad dose of pneumonia.”
Ms McAlea was involved in the “total revamp” of the hospital earlier this year for the first surge.
The Mater was the first centre in Northern Ireland for coronavirus patients before the Nightingale facility at the City Hospital opened with access to more than 200 ventilators.
Ms McAlea said “thankfully” that level of capacity was not needed.
“The first patient we had was quite sick, and we ended up that day having five or six patients,” she said.
“Some of our own colleagues became patients, some became ill on ventilators but recovered successfully and went home.
“We have to remember even though they are nurses within the hospital, that maybe they contracted Covid-19 outside and not just because they were looking after patients. We have been very strict with our personal protective equipment and always ensured staff had enough.”
She said one of the toughest challenges for staff was that families of patients were not able to visit.
“We had one hour of a relative to visit to capture what their mum, their dad, their brother, their sister, what they liked, what part of the family they were, did they have a dog, what interests. Just to have some sort of personal identity with them, to bring photographs, what type of things did they want if the patient passed away,” she said.
“There would be a nurse with them, and for them to get to know the nurse through phone calls and also to be with that person when they died and to write a card after they died to give to the family for them to keep with some sentiments how they felt looking after their loved one.”