Coronavirus: Cases at Belfast Cov-19 centre double in a week

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Beech HallImage source, PAcemaker

The number of people being treated at a Belfast coronavirus assessment centre has doubled in past eight days.

Beech Hall health centre in west Belfast treats people who do not meet the criteria for inpatient admission.

Its lead GP, Dr Ursula Brennan, said working days are "brutally long [and] intense" and the number of very unwell patients is "increasing day by day".

Speaking to BBC News NI, she asked the public to stay at home over Easter to ease pressure on the health service.

"We are trying to cope as best we can, but really the plea from the front line is please respect the health advice, not just for the individual, but for the community and all our families," she told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme.

The facilities are not test centres, but used to assess patients suspected of having Covid-19.

Dr Brennan has two young children, but said she often does not see them for several days in a row because of the demands of her job.

"That's not a sob story, its just the reality of the work we're currently doing," she said.

"We make a choice to be health care professionals, but the community have a choice to respect the healthcare recommendations.

"So it is essential that the message is very clear for all of us to remain at home unless you have to be at work.

"That's a plea - it really is essential. By making a choice to leave your home unnecessarily is just going to stretch the services."

Dr Brennan said she was confident staff at the centre have sufficient PPE, but added that they are "working very hard to try and predict what additional equipment we're going to require in the coming weeks".

She added: "They system is working. We work really hard with our GP colleagues in local practices and we run training three times every day, so we are seeing the benefits of that. We are seeing the patients we need to be seeing to ensure they're not ending up in an emergency department."

'Nervousness about surge'

Over the past few days, she said, the patient flow has become "much smoother", however, there is a nervousness among staff about the surge ahead.

"We really don't know how or when the surge is going to happen," she said.

"There's a sense of anticipation, a nervousness in terms of what's going to be required of all of us."

Image source, Naomi Baker/Getty Images
Image caption,
The government mailed advice to millions of households this week

The patients she and her colleagues see are those who require a GP assessment.

"They may have Covid symptoms that are developing or getting worse, or Covid symptoms with another medical problem that requires assessment or examination," she said.

"Many of them will have chest or respiratory symptoms, breathing problems that aren't improving.

"We see babies, children, adults, frail and elderly patients who have palliative care needs, it's a full range of all ages... but the vast majority would be adults."

At the clinic, 10 doctors rotate shifts every four to five hours. They are complimented by a team of nurses, dieticians, cleaners and security staff and administrative support.

"We're very much a collective of people who've never worked together as a team and you can see that team dynamic that's built over a short period of time."

As yet, no staff have become ill: "We're really fastidious about the decontamination, PPE use and social distancing. That's front and centre in terms of the ethos of the centre."

Dr Brennan said support from the community helps staff morale: "We know we're supported by our family and communities and I'm grateful for that. We're all experiencing hardship every day at the minute."