Northern Ireland news

Robin Swann expressed 'deep concern' at postponement of cancer surgeries

Health Minister Robin Swann. Picture by Pacemaker
Marie Louise McConville

HEALTH minister Robin Swann has expressed "deep concern" at the postponement of some cancer surgeries due to Covid-19 pressures.

The Belfast trust revealed that 106 planned surgeries had been postponed, describing it as an "extremely difficult decision" taken because of the need to expand Covid-19 intensive care capacity and support teams.

Mr Swann said that from next Monday he has asked that all patients whose cancer surgery was cancelled in recent days to be provided with a new date.

"This situation is extremely distressing for patients and families and I sincerely apologise for the distress that has been caused," he said.

"This is also a dreadful position for our healthcare staff and hospital managers to be in.

"The more critically ill Covid patients there are, the less staffing capacity we have in the system for non-Covid services.

"This is the dire reality that we find ourselves in."

The Ulster Unionist MLA said there were staffing pressures in the health service that "cannot be fixed in the short term".

"I am committed to increasing our workforce, however it takes years to train specialist staff who are equipped with the knowledge and skills that our health service needs and deserves."

However, he also expressed hope yesterday the region is starting to "turn the corner" on the second wave of Covid-19.

"The R number has fallen slightly since last week. This is likely to reflect both the impact of the Northern Ireland-wide household restrictions and the wider restrictions in Derry City and Strabane local government district area."

Mr Swann also said it is hoped that hospital admissions, bed occupancy and ICU admissions will peak in the next two weeks.

It came amid a warning that trauma surgery at Craigavon Area Hospital may also need to be rationed if Covid-19 admissions keep putting pressure on services.

Orthopaedic surgeon Ronan McKeown urged people to take extra care around the house and on the roads to reduce their risk of injury.

"People need to be extra careful, they maybe aren't aware that the hospital is coming under increasing pressure as more and more people get admitted," he told the BBC.

"As the capacity of the hospital diminishes that will influence what we can do and the services we may be able to offer the public."

Mr McKeown added: "We may actually have to ration surgery and it may be that you end up with a broken arm or a broken leg that we do not have the time or space to operate on, and it will heal with a deformity and potential disability.

"We don't know what way it's going to go, but we are worried that if it continues to go the way it's going that we won't be able to cope."

Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has said he has reviewed the current advice on shielding but will not be making changes at this stage.

Shielding for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable was paused on July 31.

Dr McBride said: “Since shielding was first advised, a number of important changes have taken place in our approach to managing coronavirus and reducing its transmission. This includes a greater awareness of the importance of social distancing, the requirement to use face coverings, Covid-19 secure workplaces and greater adherence to respiratory and hand hygiene.

“Having carefully weighed up all the evidence, including the impact on mental health and I have decided that shielding should remain paused at this stage."

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