Some Northern Ireland Health Trusts were close to declaring a major incident over the weekend as the pandemic threatened to overrun hospitals.
Craigavon Area Hospital was under severe strain on Sunday night as Health chiefs put out as SOS to off-duty staff to come in and “work whatever hours you can”.
The call was answered by selfless staff, some of which were come off long shifts already.
Western Health Trust chief executive Dr Anne Kilgallen, speaking to Good Morning Ulster, predicted two out of every four patients being treated in hospitals in the west will have coronavirus by the third week of January.
Dr Kilgallen says Trusts have yet to feel the full force of the pandemic.
“We will work our hardest to ensure that we do respond to need,” she said. “This is one of the reasons why, some trusts and I think this week more of us will do so, we made the extremely difficult decision to postpone cancer surgery.
“It is in this context that we have really to concentrate the efforts of our staff, who are exhausted, to provide essential care.”
While the situation was close to breaking point in Craigavon on Sunday night, it wasn’t much better at Daisy Hill on Saturday night a queue of ambulances unable to unload passengers at the Emergency Department.
Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy described the images as “deeply concerning”.
“The sight of ambulances queued up outside the Emergency Department at Daisy Hill Hospital is very concerning,” said Mr Murphy.
“Unfortunately, additional pandemic-related pressure placed on an already stretched health service, has led to similar scenes in other areas.”
He continued: “The heads of the north’s health trusts have issued a joint call on the increase pressure, warning of staffing levels, longer waiting times and the cancellation of elective surgery.
“On top of this, individual trusts have appealed to off-duty staff members to come in to help them deal with the staffing pressures.
“The immediate message to people remains, stay at home, stay safe and do not make any unnecessary journeys. This is the only way in which we can relieve pressure on the NHS and on frontline staff”.
His Sinn Féin colleague, Newry & Armagh MLA Liz Kimmins, said frontline workers have been magnificent throughout the pandemic and that it is “paramount we all take personal responsibility at this time for making sure we do everything possible not to add to their workload”.
Ms Kimmins added: “In addition, this situation highlights the fact that Daisy Hill Hospital is an absolutely vital resource for the area. The hospital needs to be fully resourced and protected into the future, this includes the development and expansion of services post pandemic and securing the power supply to the hospital.
“The message to the public is clear, stay at home unless it is necessary to leave for essential purposes. Of course anyone needing to access urgent or emergency healthcare should not hesitate to do so (or call 999).
“The Health Minister also needs to urgently set out plans to deal with the increased pressures and to support the health workers who have been working so hard to keep people safe and save lives.”