Why low inflation is a worrying sign for the UK economy

Why low inflation is a worrying sign for the UK economy

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Cross-Border health treatment in North to continue in new year despite Brexit

A cross-Border health initiative that allows patients to travel to the North for treatment will con…
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9 key points raised by Health Minister and frontline health staff at Wednesday’s coronavirus press …

Health Minister Robin Swann opened today's press conference by sharing his “deepest condolences” with eight more families who have lost a loved one to coronavirus. Rather than his usual colleagues, the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor, he was joined on the podium by Northern Trust chief Jennifer Welsh and Belfast Trust sister Joanna Sloan – who was also the first person in NI to get the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. The health minister raised a number of concerns ahead of the easing of restrictions for Christmas and said a new paper will go before the Executive tomorrow. Six more deaths were reported in Wednesday's dashboard update while a further 513 cases of coronavirus were diagnosed. Minister Swann said the statistics are very concerning and that “we are not where we want to be”. While restrictions in recent weeks have had some impact, he said it was not as much as he'd hoped. “We are in a critical period and our hospitals are under immense pressures… there are growing fears that January could be much worse,” he said. He added that the evidence of this pressure is all around us, citing Antrim Area Hospital last night as well as care homes. Mr Swann says he know we are all tired and need some respite over Christmas, but that “this virus will not be taking any time off”. Northern Trust chief Jennifer Welsh described scenes at the hospital she oversees as “a truly depressing spectacle” but said they were the “truly grim reality” at many hospitals. Mr Swann said we need a united front to get us through the coming days and as we look to a renewed period of hope in spring and summer. He says he has seen support from all five parties at the most critical times during this pandemic and that they are always conscious of the asks and the impact they will have on society. “I look forward to receiving support from the whole Executive on what we ask them to do.” “There will undoubtedly be some very dark hours and they will come before that dawn,” he added. “I make this appeal… be aware at all times.” Mr Swann said it is impossible to “cover all aspects of life” through Executive imposed restrictions and that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. “I know many families have decided not to get together as they have in recent years. Plan and discuss… we have come through so much already so please don’t jeopardise it now.” Robin Swann has urged people to “please do what you can do keep yourselves and each other safe” as beds fill with those sick with the virus. The Health Minister's plea was echoed by both Jennifer Welsh and Joanna Sloan, who have been working on the frontline. Northern Trust chief Ms Welsh said a quarter of Antrim Hospital beds contain coronavirus patients and that their usual ability to provide more as in previous winters has been seriously impacted by coronavirus restrictions that are needed in hospitals. But she is not alone. She says her chief executive colleagues at all five Trusts “are concerned” and that they have “warned for some months of our hospitals operating beyond capacity”. “This is not a normal winter,” she said. Joanna Sloan added: “We are anticipating a significant spike… our numbers and deaths continue to be too high. We are looking at a very difficult January ahead. We are making extreme plans. I can only stress that we follow the guidance and try and keep as safe as possible.” Ms Welsh has appealed to people to do all they can to prevent getting the virus and needing hospital treatment as “the virus does not spread itself”. She also thanked people for their continued patience and warned that increasing coronavirus cases could impact non-Covid care and that the only way to combat that is to keep cases of the virus down. Sister Sloan said she will not be taking any risks after having the vaccine. She said: “While we are here and we are vaccinating people and we are trying our best to try and protect you to the end of the pandemic – I would like to say we are not there yet and we will all have to continue with guidance and protecting ourselves and protecting others. I have taken no liberties and will continue to wear my face mask, wash my hands…” Paying tribute to health staff, Northern Trust boss Ms Welsh said they “are exhausted physically and mentally from the pandemic”. “This has been the most challenging year of their lives,” she added. She also thanked those who will be working across health over the Christmas period. Sister Joanna Sloan, who works in the Belfast Trust and recently moved from the ED at Royal Victoria Hospital to head the vaccine programme said staff on the ground are “all working extremely hard”. In winter, she says they are “seeing our sickest patients” and experiencing more admissions and ED attendances. “Please be safe over the Christmas period,” added Sister Sloan. “The only way we can ensure our life returns to normal is by risk assessing as the minister said… and following the guidance.” Joanna Sloan said she feels well since getting the vaccine and that she has suffered no side effects. She urged people to talk to their families, ignore conspiracy theories and do their own research before deciding whether to take it or not. The nurse also urged families to start talking about the vaccine and “get your facts” right before making a decision on whether to take it or not. She says there is no evidence it is unsafe for pregnant women, however with every drug “there must be data from each person” and this could take many years to gather. “With regards to concerns and scaremongering with regards to infertility being a side effect… yet again there is now data and no evidence to show that,” she added. “There is nothing to say this vaccine will cause infertility problems.” If someone finds out they are pregnant after getting the first dose, she advises that they put off the second. Minister Swann said the scaremongering “is unhelpful at this point in time and the nonsense being peddled on social media”. He added that many other medical authorities around the world have now approved the vaccine and that it was not that “the UK was trying to rush”. Minister Swann said 5,300 across Northern Ireland had received their first dose of vaccination by Tursday while vaccination nurse Joanna Sloan added: “To date, I can let you all know that within the Belfast Trust we have vaccinated almost 1,700 staff and patients.” In relation to the budget he needs to alleviate pressures on hospitals and health services the Health Minister says he hopes that the Executive will listen to his requests. He added that the situation we are now in is not just about beds and buildings, but also investing in staff. “When the Executive came back in January, the health services was underfunded,” he explained. He says it has been like for 10 years and that “we are paying that price now”. Jennifer Welsh, Chief Executive Northern Trust, said they are trying to increase beds and also staff available to work through the bank system. But she said Trusts don't have the flexibility they normally would and are not able to create capacity as they did before because of the impact of coronavirus. This means reducing other things, which could have an impact on scheduled care. “Our fear is they [other healthcare provisions] will be much more restricted this year because of Covid.”
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