Medical leaders fear imminent end of all non-urgent operations as pressures increase to manage COVID-19

Publication date: 20 October 2020

Medical Royal Colleges in Northern Ireland have come together to urge the public to play their part in stopping the spread of COVID-19, in order to protect vital health services.

As the rate of infection continues to increase, the Health Minister and Health & Social Care Chiefs are being forced to make difficult decisions around what services will continue to be provided during the imminent winter period.

Pressures on services are already growing rapidly, and GP surgeries and Emergency Departments are coming under increasing strain to safely meet demand from patients. With elective care waiting lists at unacceptable levels already, it is essential that every single person in Northern Ireland complies with the government guidance to help stop the virus from spreading, so staffing and financial resources aren’t pulled from routine operations and treatment.

Dr Hamish Courtney, Council Member of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh commented: “We had a very constructive meeting with the Health Minister last week where we outlined the impact of scaling back on elective services. During the first wave of COVID-19, we established radical new ways of working, using a multidisciplinary approach and rapidly adopted technology to deliver remote care to our patients. Rising infection rates impact badly on our ability to keep these new services open, and we are urging members of the public to comply with public health advice and guidance so that we can do our jobs and provide services to patients who need treatment and support.”

Speaking for the Royal College of Emergency Medicine NI, Vice President Dr Paul Kerr said: “Our Emergency Departments are already struggling to cope with demand and we are seeing increased crowding. In addition, the rise in numbers of staff having to isolate means bed capacity is reduced. We want to see our services staying safe and open to the public, while we try to provide emergency care in the face of rising infection rates. To enable this, we urge everyone to play their part in protecting each other and our healthcare workers.”

Dr Laurence Dorman, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners NI highlighted the pressures in primary care, saying: “GPs and their teams have innovated and adapted rapidly to meet the needs of patients during the pandemic, while putting new ways of working in place so we can adhere to social distancing and keep out patients and staff safe. Sadly, we have too many patients on waiting lists who need access to specialty care for life changing procedures and diagnostics, and we do not want to see treatments and operations delayed any further. But the reality is, if we don’t comply with the guidance and get the spread of COVID-19 under control, health chiefs will be forced to redeploy staff and redistribute resources to treat patients suffering from coronavirus.”

Mr Mark Taylor, Director of the Royal College of Surgeons in NI said: “No one wants to see time-dependent surgery being cancelled. We owe it to our patients, our staff and each other to try to protect everyone’s wellbeing. We urge our health leaders to keep staff in roles that support the delivery of surgery and to apply innovative thinking as to how we might safely continue to provide elective services in separate sites that are kept free from COVID-19. We also plead with the public to help them do that by washing their hands, wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. That way, we can continue – for as long as possible – to keep our doors open and the lights on.”

Further Information

For more information and media bids, contact Clare Higgins, RCGPNI Policy & Public Affairs Officer via or 07341737033

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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