NI’s six health trusts have warned that by the third week of January, NI hospitals could be dealing with double the number of Covid patients.
In a joint statement, the trust chief executives said the figures were based on modelling projections.
They also said there were staffing concerns at a time when there are increased number of patients.
Amid the pressures the Western Health Trust issued an appeal to off-duty staff.
On Sunday night it called for any staff near South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen to either contact the trust or go to the hospital.
Attention all off-duty staff in the vicinity of SWAH. Due to increasing pressures this evening on the NI Helathcare System we are appealing to you to contact or go directly to the hospital. Thank You pic.twitter.com/FoQNbPe2Dz
— Western Trust (@WesternHSCTrust) January 10, 2021
In the statement trust executives urged the public to “stay at home, practise social distancing, hand hygiene and wear face coverings.”
In December they warned “several of NI’s acute hospitals were operating beyond capacity”.
In their latest stament, the trusts said dealing with the pandemic was now “not a simple matter of putting up more beds.”
The statement said: “We need the staff to care for the increased number of patients.
“Pre-existing staffing pressures and staff absence because of COVID, and other reasons, mean that those staff simply aren’t there.”
Seventeen more coronavirus-related deaths have been reported by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland in the past 24 hours.
It takes its death toll to 1,460. Two deaths happened outside the past day.
In their statement, the trusts made reference to the standing down all but the most urgent elective surgery, including some red-flag cancer surgery.
“This was to redeploy staff to meet the urgent and immediate needs of extremely ill patients, especially both Covid and non-Covid patients needing ICU care,” they said.
The trusts said the postponed operations would be rescheduled as soon as possible.
‘Fall short of high standards’
The statement continued: “We have established a regional approach to ensure any available theatre capacity across Northern Ireland is allocated for those patients most in need of surgery, both during surge and as we come out of this surge.
“This may mean that patients will need to travel further for their surgery.”
Cancer services are seeking to maintain chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other non-surgical treatments and alternative treatments will be provided in the absence of surgical options.
They said that staff “although exhausted, will once more go above and beyond to do the best they can for as many people as possible, and we thank them for it.”
However the chief executives added that it would not be easy and the “care that we are able to provide will at times fall short of the high standards we normally deliver but we will do our very best.”
‘Desperately ill patients will be prioritised’
The trusts also warned the public that no-one should be attending a hospital emergency department at any time unless they need emergency care and said longer waits were likely
They added that patients arriving by ambulance will also wait at times, sometimes for many hours before space is available in an already over-stretched ED.
“This has a direct impact on the ability of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to respond, in a timely manner, to life threatening emergencies in the community,” the statement said.
The trust chief executives said patients must leave hospital as soon as they are medically fit to leave.
“That might mean accepting a placement where it is available and it might also mean families having to go the extra mile to provide temporary support for relatives but we will need every bed that we have for those that are most in need,” the statement said.
The statement said pressure on one part of the system would inevitably impact on other parts, pointing to the possibility of families filling “unavoidable gaps in domiciliary care.”
Vaccination drive continues
The vaccine rollout continues in Northern Ireland.
The trusts said the vaccines “provide the long-term hope and the current lockdown offers the opportunity to shorten the duration of the current surge.”
The Health Department anticipates the vaccination programme will continue until the summer of 2021.
However the trusts said in the meantime “never has the phrase ‘all in it together’ been so pertinent and just so important.”
On Sunday, the Department of Health reported that a further 1,112 people had tested positive for the virus.
There are 703 people in hospital with the virus, 53 people in Intensive Care Units (ICU), 34 on ventilation.
In the Republic of Ireland the Department of Health reported eight further coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday, bringing its death toll to 2,344.
It said there are 6,888 new cases and 125 people are in ICU.
Earlier this week, the reproductive rate of the virus in Northern Ireland – known as the R-number – was sitting at about 1.8.
On Friday, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) said a total of of 1,830 Covid-related deaths had been registered in Northern Ireland to the end of 2020.
It said 88 deaths were registered in the week to Friday 25 December and 93 in the week to the 1 January 2021.
Nisra’s figures are based on mentions of the virus on death certificates, so people may or may not have previously tested positive for Covid-19.
The Department of Health publishes separate figures on Covid-related fatalities, which are based on deaths from any cause within 28 days of testing positive for the disease.