“Shocking but not surprising” was the verdict given as another day brought fresh revelations which point to a health service struggling to cope.
After recent reports of hundreds of people presenting to A&E at Craigavon Area Hospital – and patients facing waits of up to eight hours to see a GP – now it has been confirmed the effect which the situation is having on surgical procedures.
The Southern Health and Social Care Trust has denied that the service is unable to cope amid reports that staff are being left exhausted and stretched to the limit as they try and provide cover.
The pressures kept mounting over the Christmas period and routines operations had to be cancelled over recent weeks.
But the extent – according to one local MLA – was much worse than people had realised.
Between December 1 and January 4, a total of 222 routine operations were cancelled within the Southern Trust area.
And according to Newry and Armagh SDLP MLA Justin McNulty, it raises “serious concerns regarding the ongoing problems”.
He 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.
“How often do we hear the expression, ‘Your Health is your Wealth’ and yet we really don’t value it until we suffer from ill health. 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 said the Trust had reported a “significantly higher than expected number of people” being admitted to hospital and “this surge in patient numbers impacted on their capacity to proceed with planned surgery”.
She added: “Recently we met with the Chief Nursing Officer for Northern Ireland who quite clearly illustrated problems surrounding closed beds and challenges on 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 impacting on capacity issues, and result in a breakdown of services elsewhere as demonstrated by the 222 operation cancellations.”
The situation has led to calls to get the Executive back up and running and doing the job the people expect of it.
Mr McNulty said: “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 reprioritise resources to ensure this doesn’t happen. It’s long since past the time our two major parties stopped huffing and puffing, set their differences aside and put people first.”