Stormont health minister Robin Swann has announced a plan for a second Nightingale facility in Northern Ireland as part of a surge plan ahead what he warned could be a “tough winter”.
It will be a step down facility, located in Whiteabbey Hospital, Co Antrim, and will include 100 intermediate care beds.
Mr Swann told a Stormont media briefing on Wednesday that he is “increasingly of the view that Covid-19 has the potential for another full scale assault”.
“More people will sadly lose their lives and others will suffer long term damage to their health,” he said.
“This is going to be a tough winter, the toughest winter the health service has faced in its history.
“My department is finalising a new Covid-19 surge planning strategic framework setting out our preparations for the next peak of infections and winter pressures.
“As part of this surge plan, I have approved plans for a second Nightingale facility for Northern Ireland. This will be a step down facility at Whiteabbey Hospital which will be operational by this winter in order to increase our bed capacity and relieve wider pressures.
“This Nightingale facility will provide an additional 100 regional intermediate care beds to help aid the flow of patients from ICU and acute care.”
The region previously saw a Nightingale facility opened at Belfast City Hospital to provide more intensive care beds. It was wound down in May.
Mr Swann said the facility can be brought back online if needed.
Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said modelling of potential scenarios that may be seen later this year have been carried out.
He pointed out there is a different pattern in terms of most of those testing positive for Covid-19 now, compared to March.
“For instance two thirds of those testing positive are under the age of 40, and that’s why we need to target our message particularly to that age group in terms of their behaviours and activities,” he said, adding that in March 40-50% of cases were in those aged over 60%, whereas at that moment that figure is 10%.
“It should be within our control as the minister has said, the future of this pandemic is not within control of the virus, it’s in all of our hands in terms of the actions we take and our own behaviours.”
Earlier, the department of health’s daily updates revealed that there had been two further deaths with Covid-19, as well as another 71 positive cases.
Some 463 new cases of the virus have been detected in the last seven days, bringing the total in the region to 7,365.
Most of the cases (136) over the last seven days are in the Belfast City Council area, following by 90 in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council area.
There are currently 18 active outbreaks in care homes, a significant increase from August where the number of such outbreaks dropped to one.
The minister said it is a concern for his department.
He said a “growing testing programme” for care home staff and residents has been implemented.
“Any care home with two or more positive cases, should that be in a staff member or a resident, should it be someone who is asymptomatic, those are being classified as an outbreak so that we can interact with that home and take the steps if necessary to make sure that the staff who are identified as tested positive are isolated but also supported and those residents are isolated and supported as well,” he said.
Meanwhile, the minister has welcomed the Rapid Learning Initiative report on care home pandemic experiences.
“The Rapid Learning Initiative has identified 24 recommendations that will help inform our approach as we face into a potentially very difficult autumn and winter,” he said.
“Our care home sector was extremely fragile before the pandemic and the virus has exposed that. Northern Ireland is by no means unique in that regard.
“Covid-19 cruelly targets the oldest and most vulnerable citizens and care homes in many countries around the world have suffered devastating consequences.
“There are clearly important lessons to learn from experiences of the first surge.
“I welcome the Rapid Learning Initiative and the contribution it makes to our approach in the weeks and months ahead.”