Storm Ophelia hits the health service with hundreds of appointments cancelled
OUTPATIENT appointments and day case procedures were cancelled at Northern Ireland's biggest health trust yesterday due as hospital staff braced themselves for storm Ophelia.
The Belfast health trust, which is responsible for the Royal Victoria hospital, Belfast City and Mater hospitals, made the announcement on social media at mid-day, saying patients would be contacted and new appointments arranged for as "early a date as possible".
Many regional specialities, including the main cancer centre and neurosurgery, are based at the trust with patients from across the north travelling to Belfast for treatment.
Emergency services were still being provided, with trust chiefs urging the public to use A&E services only if necessary.
Day centres in Belfast closed at noon with those attending yesterday morning transported home with a meal.
"The safety and care of our patients and staff is our priority and we have taken these decisions to ensure we continue to deliver an efficient service," a trust spokeswoman said.
"We have contingency plans in place for adverse weather conditions and we will keep this situation under review."
Routine outpatient appointments and day cases were also cancelled in the Western health trust area, affecting patients attending Altnagelvin hospital in Derry, the South West Acute hospital in Enniskillen and Omagh hospital.
The regional radiotherapy treatment unit, which is based at Altnagelvin, is accessed by patients across a wide geographical area.
Day care services also closed yesterday afternoon in the Western area, with trusts chiefs reviewing arrangements for today.
"The Trust is contacting people directly with regards to their appointments," added a spokeswoman.
Home help packages and meals-on-wheels services also went ahead in the Western area yesterday but the trust was liaising with families and the Red Cross throughout the day.
A spokeswoman added: "Services scheduled across the trust will be reviewed...the trust will continue to update the public via its social media channels."
Meanwhile, hospital appointments and most community services went ahead in the north's three other health trusts - the Northern, Southern and South Eastern - with some day centres closing at lunchtime.
In a statement, the South Eastern trust - which is responsible for the Ulster hospital in Dundonald - reassured patients who did not feel safe travelling for treatment that they "would not be put to the bottom of the list" if they wished to re-schedule their appointment.
"We will endeavour to continue to provide health and social care services, as long as it is safe for both our patients, clients and our staff," she added.