Northern Ireland news

No surgery in Mater as questions arise about long-term future of hospital

The Mater Hospital in North Belfast is the designated Covid-19 hospital for the Belfast trust. Picture Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

THE future of surgical services at the Mater Hospital in Belfast remains unknown with health chiefs saying they are "under constant review".

Sources have contacted The Irish News with concerns about long-terms plans for the north Belfast hospital, which became a specialist Covid hub during the first wave of the pandemic.

"No surgery" is currently being performed at the Crumlin Road site, the Belfast trust confirmed.

Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1883, The Mater is known for its expertise in the treatment of pancreatic and liver related cancers and illnesses.

Operations for these patients were transferred to Belfast City Hospital as part of Covid planning and have not returned.

Three operating theatres are lying un-used and the Intensive Care Unit is also shut due to staff being deployed to the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) and City sites.

Babies are also no longer delivered at the Mater's midwifery-led unit. The ante-natal service remains in place however.

An A&E facility remains but no walk-ins are allowed. Outpatient services are also continuing, with cardiac patients among those being seen for appointments.

One medic said the hospital was "full to capacity" with coronavirus patients from "not just Belfast but from across Northern Ireland" and that the retention of nurses was becoming an issue.

He expressed concerns the hospital could become a specialist respiratory facility and lose its acute surgical status.

"All the really ill Covid patients are being admitted to the Mater. They try to keep them off ventilators and it's only in extremis are they transferred across to the City to go on a ventilator," he said.

"The Mater is chock-a-block and they don't have enough staff, especially highly trained staff. Previously, when things were stood down you would have had skilled staff coming in from other specialties in the hospital, such as ophthalmology, to help. The problem is that they've all been moved to other sites now.

"It is the first time there has been no surgery at the Mater."

Latest figures from the Department of Health dashboard show there were 71 Covid patients in the Mater yesterday.

A scheduled meeting of the hospital's trustees took place last week.

When asked what if there are plans to return surgical services to the hospital and what services are currently in place, a trust spokesman was unable to give a definitive answer.

"Belfast Trust continues to respond to the current surge in Covid-19 admissions as well as unprecedented unscheduled care demand seen in our Emergency Departments," he said.

"Hepatobiliary surgery (which treats the liver, bile duct and pancreas) will continue at the Belfast City Hospital for the foreseeable future where the trust is able to provide some elective surgery at present for prioritised patients.

"Currently no surgery is taking place at the Mater, which continues to be the trust's dedicated Covid-19 hospital. The situation and function of all our hospital sites is under constant review."

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