Leading article

Covid battle is not over

News that the Nightingale hospital in Belfast may be used as a centre for cancer operations will be welcomed by those patients whose vital surgery has been delayed by the third wave of coronavirus.

The surge in cases which had been building through the late autumn and which peaked after the Christmas and New Year period placed our hospital system under severe strain.

As the number of Covid-19 inpatients increased and ICU beds rapidly filled, the health authorities scaled back on non-Covid treatment. Unfortunately, this included a significant number of patients who had been red flagged for treatment and required urgent attention.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,000 red flag cancer procedures have been postponed while Department of Health figures show that between March last year and January 21, 2021 more than 4,000 procedures were cancelled.

It is deeply regrettable that any patient should have to face an undue delay for a diagnostic test or surgical procedure but we know that for those with confirmed or suspected cancer a prolonged wait can have devastating consequences.

In a bid to minimise delays to surgical cases, the authorities have taken a regional approach, with patients being referred to hospitals outside their health trust area.

While travel may be an issue for some people, most would agree that getting potentially life-saving surgery in a timely fashion has to be the priority.

It is also essential that as the number of Covid cases thankfully decreases, the treatment of non-Covid cases has to be ramped up.

The Belfast Trust this week confirmed to the Irish News that it is finalising plans to return some services to Belfast City Hospital, where the 11-storey tower block became the specialist coronavirus facility last spring, reopening in October as infection rates increased.

As well as plans to use the City as the north's main regional cancer centre, it is understood that kidney transplants are also set to resume at the hospital.

This is very positive news although health officials are exercising caution, pointing out that the situation is fluid.

This point was underlined by Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride yesterday who warned that the more rapidly we ease restrictions, there is a risk that the virus will get out of control and we would see further waves.

On a day which recorded eight more deaths, the clear message was that this battle is far from over.

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