Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland hospitals cancel operations due to staff shortages

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Media captionThe cancellation of operations due to staff shortages is no surprise, says the Royal College of Nursing

A number of non-emergency operations across Northern Ireland have had to be suspended.

The move is a result of hospital theatres not being able to work at full capacity due to staff shortages.

Three out of Northern Ireland's five trusts are affected - the Belfast, Southern and Western trusts.

There will undoubtedly be a knock-on effect on hospital waiting times, which are expected to reach an all-time high by the end of November.

It is thought that figures could be close to or over 300,000 people waiting for a first time consultant-led appointment, an all-time high in Northern Ireland and across the UK.

At this stage it's not clear how long the measure will remain in place.

Skilled staff shortages

The trusts said the problem was due to staff shortages, particularly skilled theatre nurses.

Emergency surgery will not be affected but other operations will be postponed.

The Belfast Health Trust said it could not predict how long the measure would remain in place but confirmed it was trying to recruit appropriate staff.

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The Southern Health Trust has suspended some surgery at Craigavon Area Hospital in County Armagh and on a smaller scale at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry, County Down.

The Southern Health Trust said its priority was to make sure there was "appropriate numbers of nurses with the appropriate level of skill in our theatres to keep our patients safe".

"We have been left with no option but to temporarily suspend some surgical sessions," it added.

"Emergency, red flag and urgent surgery is continuing as normal."

The Western Health Trust said it had theatre staffing shortages at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry.

"Emergency theatres, trauma theatre and labour ward are not affected," it added.

"The trust has an ongoing recruitment process in place to improve staffing levels in theatres."

While suspending surgery is not unheard of it normally happens much later in the winter months.

It will add additional stress to a health and social care system that is already buckling under growing pressure.

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