Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (1 July 2020)

Date published: 01 July 2020

Northern Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the past 24 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.

Health Minister Robin Swann today announced a series of measures to support community pharmacies and intensive care training in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A new £13.25 million funding package will be available to community pharmacies up to March 2021, in addition to a recurrent £112.4 million in funding for 2020/21 and a £7.5 million investment in maintaining essential medicines during the initial stages of the Coronavirus emergency.

The funding package came about after a commission agreement was reached by the Department of Health, Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) and the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB). 

During a visit to McKay’s Pharmacy in Belfast, Minister Swann said: “I am very pleased to be able to announce this investment in community pharmacy, which has responded promptly and professionally to the Covid-19 emergency response. I fully understand the historical challenges faced by the sector. This agreement provides a firm foundation that will enable community pharmacy to play a full part in the future of the HSC. This is the first time that an agreement on the commissioning and funding of community pharmacy has been reached in Northern Ireland and I recognise all the hard work that has brought us here today. I welcome the new approach to collaborative working which I believe will be beneficial for the HSC, pharmacies, and all those who use their services.”

The funding will ensure that, as well as the core dispensing service provided by all pharmacies, community pharmacies will provide additional services from July 2020 to meet the needs of patients during the pandemic period. 

This will mean: 

  • An emergency supply service, started in phase one of the pandemic, will continue.
  • Services for smoking cessation and opiate substitution therapy, suspended during the initial phases of the emergency response, will re-commence.
  • An enhanced on-call palliative care service will be provided and a new service developed for care homes.
  • A ‘Pharmacy First’ service will provide a consultation with a pharmacist for access to advice and treatment for common conditions, avoiding the need for the public to attend GP/OOH/ED services.
  • Pharmacies will provide targeted advice and signposting for mental and physical health promotion.
  • A medicines delivery services will be developed for vulnerable groups.

The Minister also announced the commissioning of four additional training places in the Intensive Care medical specialty training programme, commencing in September 2020.

With intensive care specialty in great demand during the recent Coronavirus health crisis, he said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to ensure that the critical care service has enough consultant staff into the future. It will be necessary to cope with potential future increases in demand including those associated with demography, service developments and the ongoing risk of further surges in respiratory virus-related illness such as Covid-19. Securing the four additional training places will help address these challenges, and will ensure that we keep up with the rest of the UK, who also recently agreed to fund additional Intensive Care training places in light of the impact of Covid-19.”

Intensive Care Medicine is a relatively new specialty, with a complex training structure involving experience in intensive care, anaesthetics, medicine (especially respiratory medicine and renal medicine). Clinical placements are also undertaken in paediatric ICU and cardiac intensive care.

The four additional trainees will enter the programme in September 2020 and will be expected to begin to make a major contribution to service delivery within six months of joining.

Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín announced a major £4 million lifeline for the arts to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The additional funding, which was secured during the Executive’s June Monitoring round, will be available to musicians, performers and cultural workers, arts venues and museums as they rebuild.

It is part of an overall package for the Department for Communities which allocated almost £4 million for the Housing Executive to tackle homelessness, £4.5 million for the Community Support Fund and £2 million for the sports sector.

During a visit to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, Minister Ní Chuilín observed: “This pandemic has exposed the financial vulnerability of our arts and cultural organisations, many of whom are household names. As an immediate next step, I intend to engage directly with organisations to agree the detail of how the funds might best be put to swift use. The huge part the arts play in all our lives has come into sharp focus through the closure of theatres, concert halls and other venues during this terrible pandemic and the cancellation of so many shows and arts programmes. And when arts and culture organisations suffer, so too does our economy.  These organisations employ thousands of staff directly and indirectly, they attract tourists and help support our hospitality industry.”

The Minister said in the coming weeks she intended to widen the conversation about the future of the creative sector and was urging performers, audiences, businesses and political parties to participate.

With £4.5 million going to the Covid Community Support Fund, she said it was vital the provision of that funding to councils continued so they could support the ongoing efforts of grassroots community groups to help vulnerable and isolated people in their areas, as well as providing access to food.

The £4 million secured for tackling homelessness will enable the transition to a more permanent solution for those currently accommodated in B&Bs and hotels, will provide support for those who have started to engage with homelessness services and will help the Housing Executive make preparations to cope with a second peak of infections.

On the £2 million secured for the sports sector, the Minister added:  “To date £1.25 million has been committed to the Sports Hardship Fund which is assisting hundreds of clubs as they deal with the immediate impact the crisis has had on them.  Securing this additional £2 million demonstrates my commitment to ensuing the sustainability of sports governing bodies, clubs and sporting organisations at every level, from grassroots to those who compete at an international level, and to help the sector overcome some of the financial challenges ahead.  This funding will help ensure that people and communities can get back to enjoying their sport safely as the restrictions on the sector gradually ease.”

Education Minister Peter Weir welcomed the £12 million allocation in the monitoring round for the summer food scheme for those qualifying for free school meals during lockdown and an additional £10.5 million for childcare.

The summer food scheme will result in 57,000 families with responsibility for 102,000 children receiving payments of £13.50 per child per week during July and August.

Minister Weir said: “The issue of holiday hunger is a real concern to myself and Executive colleagues. These payments will help ensure that those children most in need do not go hungry during the summer months. I am also pleased to announce the Education Authority’s ‘Eat Well Live Well’ programme will be extended over July and August to provide for up to 5,000 young people. The programme has been running for a number of months and is currently providing healthy breakfasts and lunches to over 3,000 vulnerable young people.”

With around £12 million going to an autumn learning support programme and summer activities, the Minister said the funding for the ‘Engage’ programme for primary and post-primary pupils would address lost learning during lockdown, particularly among those children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Minister said: “The details have still to be worked out but it is likely to include support for literacy and numeracy, nurture and emotional health and well-being. In addition, my Department will provide some funding to support those primary schools which are able to run summer schools, on a voluntary basis, with a focus on supporting children with their learning. Finally, I also intend to help schools purchase online resources which may help address the needs of pupils entering P7 as they return to school.”

With £10.5million earmarked for childcare services, the Minister also signalled a Childcare Recovery Scheme will be launched in July.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The Northern Ireland Executive is producing a regular digest of key initiatives and decisions that have been undertaken by ministers and their Departments relating to the Coronavirus crisis.
  2. Members of the public are encouraged to check regularly the Public Health Agency, NI Direct, NI Executive and government departmental websites and social media channels for public health advice on how to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 Coronavirus.
  3. The Coronavirus: Executive Approach to Decision-Making document, which outlines how the Executive is approaching key decisions relating to Covid-19 restrictions on society, is available on The Executive Office website - www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/publications/coronavirus-executive-approach-decision-making
  4. Current information and advice in relation to Covid-19 can be found on the PHA website at: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus.
  5. The latest update on Covid-19 is also available at: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/COVID%20update%20for%20Executive%2008%20June.pdf
  6. Patients who have a persistent cough, or high temperature, together with any other members of their household must self-isolate according to the guidance on the PHA website at: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus#what-should-i-do-if-i-think-i-have-coronavirus and should book a test immediately via can be booked by phoning 119 or through the website nhs.uk/coronavirus. Tests are available for everyone over the age of five.
  7. The ‘Test, Trace and Protect’ strategy can be accessed via:  https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/Test-Trace-Protect-Support-Strategy.pdf
  8. The Department of Health NI’s Covid-19 NI information app provides people with immediate advice and links to vital trusted information. The app will be updated as the pandemic evolves. Download the Covid-19 NI app - search for Covid-19 NI on the Apple app store and Covid-19 NI on google play. The online version of the app is hosted on a new website https://covid-19.hscni.net.
  9. A COVID-19 statistical dash board can also be viewed on the Department of Health’s website at: https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiMWFhZDgzZDYtMTE4Yi00MTBjLWIzYmQtMTZhYzc1MGEyMTk1IiwidCI6IjljOWEzMGRlLWQ4ZDctNGFhNC05NjAwLTRiZTc2MjVmZjZjNSIsImMiOjh9.
  10. The Framework for the Wellbeing of Health and Social Care staff can be accessed at the following link: www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/2020-04/HSC_Regional%20Staff%20Wellbeing%20Framework.pdf and is based on evidence and best practice guidance and is informed by The British Psychological Society Guidance Paper.
  11. Psychological Support Help Lines will be staffed by psychologists and psychological therapists who can provide appropriate support throughout the surge phase of the crisis.
  12. The Helplines will be made available by each Trust to all their staff, to all GP Practices in their area, to all Ambulance staff based in their area and to all independent sector care providers in their area. In this way support is offered to all parts of the system throughout surge.
  13. The Framework document is supported by resources which are available on the PHA website: www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/guidance-hsc-staff/staff-health-and-wellbeing.
  14. If you are in distress or despair at any time including the Covid-19 crisis, the 24/7 Lifeline helpline is available on 0808 808 8000 where trained counsellors are available to help you.
  15. Updated guidance for care homes is available on DoH website at: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/covid-19-guidance-nursing-and-residential-care-homes-northern-ireland
  16. Anyone wishing to volunteer for health and social care support roles can do so via: www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/.
  17. The Freephone Covid-19 Community Helpline can be accessed by telephone on 0808 802 0020; email covid1@adviceni.net or text ACTION to 81025. It is available 7 days a week, 9am to 5pm.
  18. Statistics on weekly deaths registered in Northern Ireland can be accessed on NISRA’s website at: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/weekly-deaths.
  19. A list of schools which are open for educational supervision is available on the Department of Education website: www.education-ni.gov.uk/publications/schools-open-supervised-learning-key-workers-children-and-vulnerable-children.
  20. A link to the guidance on schools clustering is available here: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/guidance-schools-cluster-arrangements.
  21. Forms for those applying to provide supervision to vulnerable children and the children of key workers can be accessed from the Department of Education website using the following link:  http://apps.education-ni.gov.uk/appc19vol/default.aspx.
  22. Information on the full range of Covid-19 related support for businesses is available at: https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/campaign/coronavirus-updates-support-your-business.
  23. The ‘Charting a course for the economy: our first steps’ paper can be accessed at: www.economy-ni.gov.uk/publications/charting-course-economy Workplace safety guidance for Northern Ireland businesses is available at https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-workplace-safety-guidance-and-priority-sector-list.
  24. Copies of the guidance for childcare providers and advice for parents who require childcare can be accessed via https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/covid-19-childcare-guidance.
  25. The Department’s latest research papers on the impact of Covid-19 can be accessed at https://www.economy-ni.gov.uk/publications/coronavirus-and-ni-economy
  26. Media enquiries should be directed to the relevant department using the following email addresses:

The Executive Office: Press.Office@executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: PressOffice.Group@daera-ni.gov.uk;

Department for Communities: Press.Office@communities-ni.gov.uk;

Department of Education: Press.Office@education-ni.gov.uk;

Department for the Economy: DfE.PressOffice@economy-ni.gov.uk;

Department of Finance: dof.pressoffice@finance-ni.gov.uk

Department for Infrastructure: Press.Office@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk

Department of Health: PressOffice@health-ni.gov.uk

Department of Justice: Press.Office@justice-ni.x.gsi.gov.uk

27. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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