An extra facility has been opened in Co Antrim to deal with the anticipated surge in the number of Strep A and scarlet fever patients expected over the weekend.
he service, which will run at the site of the existing Dalriada Urgent Care Out of Hours GP facility at the Northern Trust’s site in Ballymena, will deal specifically with possible cases of scarlet fever and Strep A.
A spokesperson for the Northern Trust said they had opened a new assessment centre similar to what was put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Due to the large numbers of children presenting with symptomatic illness requiring further assessment, Dalriada Urgent Care GP out of hours have set up a paediatric assessment centre similar to the system that they operated successfully during the Covid pandemic,” they said.
“This is in an attempt to manage the anticipated surge in cases this weekend and to make the most efficient use of available resources with the aim of ensuring patient safety and reducing pressure on local Emergency Departments.”
Dr Alan Stout, chair of the BMA general practice committee, said Northern Ireland was still a few weeks away from case numbers beginning to ease.
“While we certainly hope that there will be a levelling out of cases, we are currently not seeing that yet in practices across Northern Ireland,” he said.
“In fact in the Dalriada area the decision has been taken to open a facility separate to urgent care to deal with the large number of cases of children needed further assessment.
“Parents are justifiably concerned, and given there are a large number of viruses and bugs circulating it can be extremely tricky to identify when you do need to seek additional help, children can deteriorate very fast.
“I would hope that we will see a levelling out in the next few weeks but currently there are considerable numbers of children needing to be seen both in general practice and in A&E.”
Meanwhile, NASUWT National Official Justin McCamphill has said that although schools were coming under pressure due to a number of factors, unions were not calling for them to be closed.
“I’m sure the PHA will be monitoring the situation closely. It’s not something that we are calling for,” he told BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme.
“We’ve had several members in contact with us telling us about the number of infections in our schools.
“These things all seem to have come at once in the lead up to Christmas and teachers are feeling the pressure. I understand all schools are coping at the minute but I do expect that some schools will feel the pressure.
“I haven’t had any reports yet of year groups being closed. In reality it means a scramble to find supply teachers. We hope the EA and Department will be guided by the best health advice.”
The Education Authority insisted they will be led by public health advice on the situation, and again urged parents to be vigilant.
“We are aware that the increased number of notifications of group A strep infections amongst children across Northern Ireland is a significant issue of concern amongst parents, school leaders and wider school communities,” said a spokesperson.
“We are working closely with the Public Health Agency (PHA), who are leading on the response to provide support to schools.
“The EA circulated a letter from the PHA to all schools on 7th December with advice and guidance on group A strep and further parent resources were issued to schools on 8th December.
“Our School Improvement Professionals are also working closely with schools to provide appropriate support, escalating any urgent issues to the PHA.
“We would strongly urge all parents and carers to be alert to the signs of group A strep and to follow the PHA guidance.
“For further information, visit: www.pha.site/ScarletFever.”
A five-page document issued to schools through the EA advises them only to contact the PHA in the event they are finding an outbreak difficult to manage, alongside laying out general guidance on potential symptoms.
Local teaching unions have welcomed the guidance document, but are continuing to seek a meeting with the Education Authority to discuss further measures for keeping children safe in Northern Ireland’s schools.
It comes after routine procedures at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast were postponed on Wednesday.
The Belfast Trust said they had been experiencing “very significant pressures” in its emergency department, with over 227 children attending on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, we have taken the very difficult decision to postpone all routine procedures at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children to allow our staff to care for those children with serious or time-critical illness at this time,” they said.
“We appreciate how difficult this will be for families and children and we apologise for the distress this may cause.”
Meanwhile the funeral will take place next week for a 5-year-old girl who died following an infection of Strep A .
Stella-Lily McCorkindale from Belfast died on Monday after being admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital days after her primary school informed parents a pupil had been diagnosed with the infection.