By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Northern Ireland’s Minister for Health Robin Swann has made a new request for military assistance to help relieve Covid pressures in hospitals.
Mr Swann has made an official request to the Ministry of Defence to provide combat medical technicians (CMTs) and non-medical staff.
It is understood the latest request is linked to increased hospital pressures due to high levels of staff sickness due to Covid.
Thousands of workers across the health service in Northern Ireland are currently absent as the number of Omicron cases remains high in the region.
A Department of Health spokesperson told the PA news agency: “We can confirm that a request for military assistance has been made by the Health Minister to the Ministry of Defence.
“Our health and social care system is under severe pressure.
“The minister and department are liaising very closely with trust and board colleagues in relation to the current situation.
“The current pressures involve a number of factors including Covid and wider winter pressures on services and Covid-related staff absences.
“We would thank the public for their continuing support for our health service at this critical time, including all those who have come forward for their vaccine booster dose.”
Troops have come to Northern Ireland on three previous occasions during the Covid crisis following requests from the Department of Health under an arrangement known as Maca (Military Aid to Civilian Authorities).
The military helped in the creation of a huge emergency mortuary, storage, logistics advice for the setting up of mass vaccination centres and CMTs supporting staff at three hospitals during the second surge from January to February 2021.
Around 100 CMTs also worked at the vaccination centre at the SSE Arena in Belfast.
Later in the year, 80 medics and 30 support staff were deployed to the Ulster, City and Antrim Area Hospitals.
Last week, data provided by the health trusts and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to the PA news agency indicated that over 4,000 workers were absent due to the virus.
Meanwhile, a further two patients who previously tested positive for Covid-19 has died in Northern Ireland.
Another 2,922 positive cases of the virus were also notified by the Department of Health.
On Wednesday morning, there were 439 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 29 in intensive care.