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Debunked: No, this video does not show that a hospital in the North lied about being over capacity

The Northern Trust has said that claims of lies about hospital capacity in the North are “ridiculous”.

A VIDEO POSTED on social media has wrongly claimed that information on hospital capacity in Northern Ireland in mid-December was fabricated.

An Irish Twitter account posted footage of Antrim Area Hospital on 17 December to claim that the hospital was “empty” and that the hospital had lied about being under strain.

The video and claim have since been reshared by social media users on other platforms.

However, the Northern Health and Care Social Trust, which manages the Antrim Area Hospital, has said that reports of the pressure that the hospital was under were real and suggestions to the contrary were “ridiculous”.

Hospitals in Northern Ireland have been operating near, at, or over capacity for much of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When the hospitals are operating over capacity, it means that the demand for beds is higher than the total available occupancy.

In the middle of December, pressure on the health service was particularly acute.

Director of operations at the Northern Trust Wendy Magowan said on 15 December that 43 people had been waiting for an emergency bed at Antrim Area Hospital and 21 at the Causeway Hospital as of that morning, while 17 ambulances carrying patients were seen lined up outside the emergency department of Antrim Area Hospital.

On 17 December, an Irish Twitter account posted footage of the Antrim Area Hospital claiming that the strain on the health service was a hoax.

The footage captures an ambulance outside the hospital without a patient inside and quiet corridors inside the hospital.

The woman capturing the video said: “They said this hospital was absolutely to capacity. It’s lies people.

“Look, everywhere in this hospital is absolutely empty,” she said.

The footage was captured at a time when the sky outside was dark.

The Northern Trust issued a statement to outline that capacity relates to beds occupied in wards, as opposed to the footage of corridors posted on social media.

“The Trust is aware of footage circulating where someone has filmed empty corridors and waiting rooms in Antrim Area Hospital in a bid to ‘prove’ that the hospital is not at capacity,” the trust said.

“When we talk about being over capacity we are talking hospital beds all being occupied. Those beds are in wards, not corridors.

“We are glad to note that corridor and communal areas are not crowded as we too need to adhere to social distancing regulations and do so with great difficulty.

“The pressures illustrated through the media this week were real and not staged in any way and it is ridiculous to suggest otherwise.” 

Capacity

Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 dashboard releases official statistics on hospital capacity on a daily basis.

“Any hospital site displaying an occupancy capacity beyond 100% indicates that the hospital is operating beyond its current available bed capacity,” the dashboard outlines.

“Whilst individual hospitals might display unoccupied beds, the Northern Ireland position may be over capacity when the total Northern Ireland bed availability is calculated.”

On Monday, 14 December, 98% of hospital beds in Northern Ireland occupied, with 151 people awaiting admission.

The next day, on Tuesday, 15 December, occupancy rose to 104%, with six hospitals in the North operating over capacity: Antrim, Causeway, Mater, Royal Victoria, SWA, and Ulster. At that moment, 218 people were awaiting admission to hospital.

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There were 33 ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients and 69 by other patients, with just 12 unoccupied ICU beds.

North Hospital Occupancy December 15 Hospital occupancy in Northern Ireland on 15 December 2020

Hospital occupancy remained high for the rest of the week, with beds occupied at a rate of 105%, 104%, 102%, 101%, and 96% on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively.

During that week, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service contacted the HSE to ask for assistance from the Irish National Ambulance Service.

Paramedics from Ireland worked across the border on the weekend to give support to the ambulance service in the North while it was under strain.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the HSE said that the ambulance service was “contacted by our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) requesting support across the weekend due to extraordinary circumstances”.

“All of our teams worked well together and our plan is to support our colleagues in the NIAS to maintain service delivery and pre-hospital care during a particularly challenging time for them,” the HSE said.

The North’s ambulance service had indicated the pressure it was under in the preceding days, advising the public that calls would be prioritised to handle those that related to the most serious illnesses or injuries first.

The health services in Northern Ireland have remained busy over the Christmas period.

On 23 December, the Northern Trust said that the Antrim Area Hospital Emergency Department was “extremely busy” and advised patients to call or text first, through which they would “be advised of the most appropriate service to attend”.

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