Army medics who have been assisting in Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 battle are returning to their military duties this week, the chief nursing officer has confirmed.
The 110 Combat Medical Technicians were deployed to the region last month as hospitals struggled to cope with the post-Christmas surge in coronavirus cases.
With infection and hospital admission rates in decline again, Professor Charlotte McArdle told the NI Assembly’s health committee that the medics, who worked as senior nursing assistants at three hospitals, are being withdrawn.
“These staff are highly trained in acute care and have been a welcome addition in providing direct support to nursing teams across our hospital network,” she said.
“They have been a valuable asset to the current nursing workforce at the peak of the pandemic surge and are leaving Northern Ireland this week to return to other duties.”
Prof McArdle said discussions are also taking place about stepping down the Nightingale facility at Belfast City Hospital, with the aim of reducing the number of beds.
The Nightingale ICU has been treating seriously ill Covid-19 patients during the surge.
Prof McArdle said nursing staff who had been drafted in to work at the Nightingale during the height of the recent wave have now returned to their usual roles.
“We’ve been having ongoing discussions with the (Belfast) trust, particularly in relation to ICU and closing the Nightingale facility and allowing staff to return to their base units, and you’ll know that many of the ICU staff in the Nightingale hospital actually had to be drafted in from other units. They have all now returned,” she told committee members.
She said the health department is working with trusts to ensure staff are afforded a period of time off before they return to their previous roles.
The chief nursing officer was briefing committee members on the impact of the pandemic on the workforce.
“There is no doubt that the period from March 2020 until now has been one of the most challenging ever faced by our health and social care system,” she said.
“During this time of unprecedented pressure, nurses, midwives and AHPs (allied health professionals) in Northern Ireland have courageously risen to the challenges in a positive, proactive, and solution-focused way to ensure the delivery of safe, effective and compassionate care to our population.”