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Hospitals across NI are continuing to experience immense pressures dealing with increased demand for urgent and emergency care, coupled with rising Covid-19 infections and the HSC have asked for the public's support in helping reduce the strain on the services.

Daisy Hill emergency department. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

In a statement the HSC pay tribute to their incredibly resilient staff who continue to work tirelessly through this challenging time to ensure that patients receive the high quality of care that they need and ask the public to please be kind to staff. "Once again they find themselves in an untenable position and once again they are rising to extraordinary challenges."

The number of COVID-19 positive patients in hospital has been increasing. A sizeable proportion of these patients are unvaccinated – including younger people and pregnant women.

Of all Covid patients in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) yesterday, 12 August 60% were not vaccinated at all and 13% had only received one vaccine.

A HSC spokesperson said "We have also had cases in recent weeks of unvaccinated pregnant women needing ICU care and emergency caesarean sections. The reality is that health and social care services across NI have been under sustained and growing pressure for many weeks. The number of patients on respiratory support has increased and is likely to translate into further ICU pressures over the coming days and weeks.

"Action is therefore needed now to increase the number of ICU beds, to ensure there are sufficient numbers of beds to meet additional demand for critical care that we are experiencing. The only way to expand ICU beds is to further redeploy specialist staff to look after critical care patients, as a result it is sadly inevitable that more planned procedures may be postponed to enable this."

The spokesperson added "We apologise to all those affected. This is a matter of extreme regret for everyone across our health and social care system and it is always our last resort to postpone procedures. Patients affected will be informed by their local Trust and all postponed procedures will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

"Every effort will be made to protect time critical surgery. It should be stressed, however, that complex surgery cannot proceed if ICU beds are not guaranteed for patients post-operation. It is simply not safe to operate in those circumstances " 

The Health and Social Care system’s Regional Critical Care Hub, set up to manage ICU units on a NI-wide basis, is meeting daily to deal with the current situation.

Other factors behind the current health and social care pressures include:

  • some staff members having to self-isolate, either through testing positive themselves or because they are close contacts of positive cases.
  • limits on bed capacity due to COVID-19 infection prevention measures, including restricted space in hospitals and reductions in already stretched bed capacity;
  • people coming forward for medical care for conditions that developed during lockdown;
  • people presenting with mental health conditions that developed during the pandemic;
  • people who are on waiting lists seeking GP or hospital care for conditions that have deteriorated;
  • limits on capacity in intermediate/social/domiciliary care, impacting on hospital discharges.

Public support needed to help ease escalating health care concerns

  • Get vaccinated as soon as possible, follow the public health advice to stop Covid spreading
  • No-one should be attending an Emergency Department at any time unless they need emergency care. If you are not assessed as urgent you may have to wait for a lengthy period.
  • Patients need to leave hospital as soon as they are medically fit to leave.
  • If you do not need emergency care, we would urge you to please choose alternative services. These include using the ONLINE A-Z SYMPTOM SEARCH, seeking advice from your local pharmacist, contacting your GP, or the GP Out of Hours services (if your medical condition can’t wait until your GP surgery reopens) or your local Minor Injuries Unit or Urgent Care Centre.
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