Medical leaders call for 'breathing space'

As hospitals struggle under increasing strain because of rising COVID-19 cases, medical Royal Colleges are urging the public to work in partnership with health care professionals to help get through this difficult winter together.

Medical leaders from the Royal Colleges of Surgeons, General Practitioners and Physicians have come together to voice their concerns about the increasing demands on critical care beds and the huge pressures being laid on frontline health and social care staff.

Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners NI, Dr Laurence Dorman, said: "We are facing a very worrying picture when it comes to capacity in our health care system and winter has yet to fully arrive. Our staff are exhausted and are working harder than ever to care for patients in the most difficult of environments. We are all weary, but we plead with every single person in Northern Ireland to help so we can be there for you when you need us. In Northern Ireland, the health service belongs to all of us, so we urge you to recommit to that partnership by supporting us. Please follow public health advice on hand washing, wearing a face mask and maintaining social distancing and we, as health leaders across primary and secondary care, will recommit to serving you best through our surgeries and hospitals."

Mr Mark Taylor, NI Director of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: "We are extremely concerned about the current situation. As the system continues to respond to the impact of COVID-19, it is becoming increasingly difficult to deliver time-dependent surgery, as staff and resources are redeployed. We know that our waiting lists are totally unacceptable and the need for change has been articulated often. Patients are worried about when they will have their procedures. Unfortunately, tough decisions must be taken in dealing with COVID-19, unscheduled care and elective surgery, all at the same time. It is the same nursing and medical staff that are working round the clock to try and keep the balance. We all must do everything we can to drive down the rate of infection and keep hospitals functioning. We ask the public to help support our efforts by renewing their sense of determination to reduce the spread of the virus, give us breathing space to get through this second wave and allow other time-dependent procedures to continue."

Dr Hamish Courtney, NI Council Member of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said: "There are 51 intensive care beds in Northern Ireland currently occupied with COVID-19 patients, and only 15 available for any more patients who need them. While all of us are tired of restrictions and regulations, the experience of witnessing a patient with COVID-19 in intensive care is a sobering reminder of the devastating potential of this condition. Restrictions and regulations remain one of our principle tools at present in tackling this virus. It is not for us to tell political leaders how to act and we do not envy the profoundly difficult decisions that face them, but we urge them to do all they can to support frontline healthcare workers and help us ensure that we are able to provide the services and the beds that our patients need."

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.