Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Surge in hospital admissions blamed for 222 cancelled ops

News that more than 220 planned routine operations were cancelled within the Southern Health and Social Care Trust in the month between December 1st and January 4th has prompted serious concern over the ongoing situation affecting the health care system in the district as it struggles to cope with seasonal pressures.

The Southern Trust has claimed a “significantly higher than expected” number of patients were admitted to hospital during this five-week period and this increase in admissions “impacted greatly” on its capacity to carry out a total of 222 planned surgeries.

Apologising to affected patients for the number of cancelled operations, a Trust spokesperson blamed the surge in patient numbers and said a decision “regrettably” had to be made “to postpone some procedures in order to accommodate the influx of very sick patients”.

“We would wish to apologise to our patients who have been affected by this situation and we are working hard to reschedule everyone. However our capacity is still limited due to the high number of ill patients who require beds and our hospitals continue to be under pressure,” the spokesperson said.

“The situation is being kept under continual review by Trust senior management and the safety and quality of the care we provide to our patients will continue to be of paramount importance.”

Reacting to the news, SDLP Assembly members Justin McNulty and Sinead Bradley described the cancellation of the 222 procedures as “shocking, but not surprising” and said the situation is “deeply concerning”.

Mr McNulty said: “These revelations are shocking but not necessarily surprising.  People have been waiting months, even years and often in agony for what should be routine operations. To have them cancelled because our health system cannot cope with seasonal pressures is wrong and deeply concerning.  Those who have had their operations cancelled or postponed have suffered long enough, they are being let down by our health system and indeed our government.”

South Down MLA Sinead Bradley revealed that during a recent meeting, the Chief Nursing Officer for Northern Ireland illustrated the problems with closed beds and the challenges of discharging patients requiring care packages.

“Our offices hear at first hand how patients, unable to easily access their local GPs or the Out of Hours Service, are increasingly presenting to the Emergency Department as their only point of entry to care.  These additional cases challenge already overstretched hospitals, inevitably impact on capacity issues and result in a breakdown of services elsewhere, as demonstrated by the 222 operation cancellations,” Ms Bradley explained.

The absence of a Health Minister with the ability to show leadership and make decisions is of dire consequence to the situation, Justin McNulty added.

“At present we have no Minister and no leadership. I’m not saying a Minister would be able to go in and do the operations and everything would be rosy, but with a Minister comes leadership, accountability and decision making.  A minister could re-prioritise resources to ensure this doesn’t happen,” he said.

“It’s long since passed the time our two major parties stopped huffing and puffing, set their differences aside and put people first.”