SIMON Hamilton met with the chief executives of the north's five health trusts and the Ambulance Service yesterday to pledge additional funds in a bid to deal with winter pressures.
The meeting with the health minister came as the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald said it had to cancel some outpatient clinics yesterday and on Wednesday in order to free up staff to cope with "unprecedented pressures" on its A&E department.
The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust said it had "taken steps to create additional capacity" after a spike in attendances at its A&E on Monday and Tuesday put the department under "extreme pressure".
"As well as cancelling some clinics, we have also increased diagnostic services to speed up the patient journey".
It came as health minister Simon Hamilton said that £4m he had secured in the last monitoring round would be handed over to deal with winter pressures.
"To ensure this funding translates as quickly as possible into additional services for patients, I am allocating the majority of this funding to trusts," he said.
"I am giving trusts the operational independence to decide how best to use this funding to deliver unscheduled care services most effectively during the winter months, enabling them to respond quickly to changes in demand".
Mr Hamilton said he expected Trusts "to work together in the interests of patients - with the full involvement of their senior clinical staff - and take all appropriate measures to eliminate avoidable 12-hour waits for patients and make progress towards the four hour waiting time target this winter".