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Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

  1. Good afternoon

    It's been a challenging week for the assembly as members passed emergency legislation while observing social distancing, and committees suffered remote communication glitches.

    We'll be back next Tuesday morning at 10:30 with a full plenary meeting of the assembly.

    Until then, the BBC will continue to bring you live coronavirus updates across television, radio and online.

    Have a safe weekend and we'll see you then.

  2. 'The meeting's been all over the place'

    Pam Cameron thanks Dr Dorman and observes that the meeting has been "all over the place" with technical problems.

    Gerry Carroll says he'd like to propose that the committee encourage the public to take part in this evening's round of applause for the NHS workers at 20:00.

    Mrs Cameron draws the meeting to a close.

    NI Assembly
  3. Wedding-dress maker turning to scrub production

    In conclusion, Dr Dorman says he "really appreciates the support we have been given" and "values the public messages of support".

    He adds that it is "remarkable how people have adapted".

    He says the person who made his partner's wedding dress is "making scrubs out of old sheets".

    Dr Dorman

    "We would urge people to heed public health messages," says Dr Dorman.

    "Wash your hands and please stay at home".

  4. Step-by-step guide to COVID-19 centre

    Committee deputy chair Pam Cameron asks Dr Dorman to outline the "step-by step process people would expect at one of these COVID-19 centres".

    Dr Dorman says people will firstly contact their GP by telephone and if they are showing symptoms and the GP has concerns that they need a face-to face assessment they will be referred to the COVID-19 centre.

    The centre will "arrange a time and an appointment".

    They will be "advised to wait in car," will be seen by a nurses and then a GP "wearing appropriate clothing".

    Dr Dorman

    He adds that the "GP will be able to decide if they need their care increased, such as at the hospital, or if they need basic medication and be allowed to be cared for at home".

    He says there are other roles for the centres as the situation develops such as helping to "facilitate patients being discharged from hospital" who are well enough to be discharged but still need "additional care".

  5. 'Index case testing'

    The UUP's Alan Chambers asks Dr Dorman if he believes it would be most beneficial if "everybody in the household is tested to say it is a negative household" in relation to support healthcare workers.

    He adds if the support worker is the only one to be tested and show up as negative, "they could contract disease the next day and bring it into work".

    Alan Chambers

    Dr Dorman replies "that is a very fair point".

    He says the person they would like to see test would be the "index case," so for example "the child with the temperature, rather than the healthcare worker".

  6. Centres will be staffed by GPs

    Pam Cameron asks about the staffing of the new COVID centres.

    Will it be the GPs supply their own staff or will it be up to the trusts?

    Dr Dorman says the local trusts are providing equipment and also drivers so that the doctors can make home visits.

    Pam Cameron

    He says the centres will be staffed by GPs with the numbers being allocated according to practice size.

    Dr Dorman says the Health and Social Care Board has allowed doctors to give up much non-essential work and practices have been "pared down to the bare minimum".

    He says they do not want the practice staff becoming infected and setting up the centres will be much safer.

    The doctor says the centres will be used for assessment rather than treatment.

  7. 'GPs are frightened'

    Dr Dorman says "GPs are frightened".

    He says: "I am frightened, I am a father, a husband and I would not ask my GP colleagues to do something I would not do myself."

    He adds that "COVID centres are essential" and would be located at "essential trust premises or out of hours" and will enable the "use disinfecting procedures at scale".

    Dr Dorman

    Dr Dorman adds "we must stand united in the face of this pandemic" but that "we need to be protected to do it".

    He says COVID centres will "help GPs and our colleagues but must be viewed as a collaborative piece of work".

  8. 'Crisis is showing us at our best'

    Due to technical issues and not being able to hear Dr Stout clearly, the committee suspends his briefing and says they will reschedule to a later date.

    Next to appear is Dr Laurence Dorman from the Royal College of General Practitioners NI, this time on a better link.

    Dr Laurence Dorman

    Dr Dorman says he runs a practice in Kilkeel and that he and colleagues are doing as much work remotely, due to the "infectious nature and risk to staff and family members".

    He says "this crisis is showing us at our best".

    He adds that the Royal College of General Practitioners would "like to see priority and expedited testing for GP staff, the team and families" in order to "keep staff active and working on front line".

  9. Doctors' briefing on COVID-19

    Pam Cameron moves to the COVID-19 response briefing from the British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs.

    Dr Alan Stout who chairs the GP committee of the BMA in NI joins the committee via Skype.

    It's a very poor line.

    Alan Stout
  10. Committee business

    The deputy chair of the committee thanks the minister and chief medical officer for joining the meeting.

    They then take a short break before regrouping to run through some committee business and consider some emergency COVID-19 legislation.

    NI Assembly
  11. 'Pressing down on the peak'

    The UUP's Alan Chambers asks about contact tracing.

    Dr McBride says they have moved beyond the containment phase.

    Dr McBride

    He says it was right to do the tracing but this is now a global pandemic and the time for "efforts to contain the virus were passed".

    "The focus now must be in providing the best care for those who have been infected and at the same time continue to press down on the peak by following the advice on self-isolation, household isolation and social distancing," he adds.

  12. 'I can't give a commitment on the NHS'

    It's the SDLP's Colin McGrath's first session as a member of the Health Committee.

    He tells the minister has been contacted by people on the front line saying they don't feel like information is coming through and as such, MLAs are the "meat in a sandwich".

    He also calls for further testing to be carried out and references the testing in Germany and the containment level they have had as a result.

    Colin McGrath

    Mr Swann says "we told anybody showing signs of symptom to self isolate, without having to go through process of getting a test".

    The chief medical officer says it will take "two to three weeks for social distancing to have impact" but emphasises that is why "social distancing measures are so vitally important".

    He adds that such steps "will allow us to protect ourselves, each other and our health service".

    Robin Swann

    The minister steps back in and says "I don't know what the health service will look like in a week's time".

    "The surge plans are in place to do what we have to do."

    But he adds that he "never would have envisaged in my time as health minister, that I would have to tell people" they would not be able to access some procedures.

    "To give any sort of commitment now that we will return 100% to where we were two months ago - I can't give it. I won't give it, because I can't stand over it," says the minister.

  13. 'Looking for ventilators across the world'

    Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit says the NHS is taking on student nurses with six months to go on their courses to work in the hospitals.

    He says he has been contacted by students with nine or ten months to go who want to work.

    He's also concerned that NI only has one ventilator for every 10,000 people.

    Gerry caroll

    The minister says "we are out across the world" looking for all the ventilators that are needed and ensuring that staff are changed to use them.

    Mr Swann says there are no plans to relax the six-month limit for student nurses at the moment "but at some point if it's necessary we will look at that".

  14. 650 ventilators en route to NI

    Committee deputy chair Pam Cameron asks the minister about the provision of ventilators and where, or what people should do if they have PPE stock which they wish to donate to the health service.

    Mr Swann replies that there are 650 ventilators "currently on their way at this minute in time".

    Pam Cameron

    In relation to PPE donation, Mr Swann says "we need to be sure of the validity of the supply chain of it as well".

    "Anything that comes to us needs to be properly sanitised and have no cross contamination from where came from before," he adds.

    He says the offers are "very, very welcome, but we need to make sure were not adding an additional layer of concern".

  15. 'PPE supply delay for private care sector'

    The DUP's Alex Easton begins by thanking the minister for dropping parking charges for hospital staff.

    He says he has been contacted by people with concerns about protective equipment in nursing homes

    The minister says "there seems to be a supply delay" in equipment for the private sector.

    Alex Easton

    "It's something we're working on to address," says Mr Swann.

    He says its important that the private sector have "the reassurance and the guidance that they're using the correct PPE in the right situation and the right time".

  16. 'No geographic disparity in the service'

    Committee chair, Colm Gildernew, is listening to the meeting remotely. He sends questions to the clerk who then presents them to the minister.

    Mr Gildernew wants to know how many testing centres will be put in place, where they will be located and when they will be operational. He also wants reassurances that these will be accessible for those who live west of the River Bann.

    Mr Swann responds, "we're not at a point where we are going to open community testing sites".

    NI Assembly
    Image caption: The committee clerk reads out Colm Gildernew's question

    "We’re getting front line support to those people presenting with that mid-range symptom of COVID-19," he adds.

    Regarding COVID-19 test centres the minister says, "we’re not at that stage yet as we don't have that capacity" but adds, "there'll be no geographic disparity in the service I provide".

  17. 'Discussions about community testing'

    Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride swaps seats with the minister.

    He confirms that next week they will be testing in excess of 1,100 a day with plans to ramp that up at a national level in coming days and weeks.

    The chief medical officer says they need to ensure the quality control of testing kits obtained from the private sector.

    The proportion of tests is equivalent to any part of these islands in terms of the number of tests per head of population and also the turnaround time, Dr McBride adds.

    Michael McBride
    Image caption: Dr McBride joins the meeting by Skype

    He says that if people follow the advice regarding the social distancing "the modelling suggests that we will be able to pull down the peak and our health services should be able to cope".

    The CMO says that there have been discussions about making community testing available at a later stage.

    He says the thinks there will be step change in testing over the next couple of weeks at a UK level.

    Dr McBride says they are taking a UK approach and working very closely with colleagues in the Republic of Ireland.

  18. 'Ramping up of testing'

    Committee deputy chair Pam Cameron asks the minister about testing of front line workers, including those working for community pharmacy.

    Mr Swann says there is a "ramping up of testing".

    He says in "January there was no test for COVID-19," and that the "scientific word has moved very fast to get that capacity and that test built up".

    Mr Swann adds that in Northern Ireland "we have moved to 600, we intend to move to 1,100 next week".

    NI Assembly
    Image caption: The Health minister joins the meeting via Skype

    Mr Swann adds that "tests are based on a number of key areas and where we utilise our current capacity".

    He says this include testing those in hospitals with other or underlying conditions who are presenting with COVID-19 symptoms, those in group accommodation such as old people's home, and health and social care workers including essential workers such as community pharmacy.

    "They are part of the the healthcare family," says the minister - something he assures the committee he told representatives from community pharmacy earlier this week.

    "They will be part of that process as we ramp up our testing," he adds.

  19. Health minister briefing on COVID-19

    The Health Minister Robin Swann is then invited to begin his briefing on surge planning for COVID-19.

    He and the chief medical officer join the meeting by Skype.

    Mr Swann says that "things in this surge plan have moved on" since its inception and that some aspects have been "developed and delivered".

    He says he visited the "first COVID-19 centre that was opened at the Altnagelvin yesterday".

    "It's a new approach as to how we can support patients of COVID-19," he says, which has been developed by a cross section of the health service and is " the national health service working at its best together".

    NI Assembly

    He adds that the site at the Altnagelvin is not a test centre, but adds that as the capacity for testing increases, "there may be an opportunity for using them for that".

    In relation to concerns raised around Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) access the minister says "30% of pandemic stock" was released at the start of the week "which will fill a large gap which we had in our flow".

    He says there are now "changes in how PPE is managed across the health and social care system" with now "one point of contact in each trust".

    Mr Swann adds "the supply chain and stock is there, it is available, we do have to do more work in making sure it is in the right place at the right time".

    He says it's important to reinforce "to people the use of PPE - to use the right grade at the right time in the right circumstance".

    NI Assembly