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Health chief Dr Michael McBride defends cancelling operations

By Victoria O'Hara

Cancelling non-urgent surgery across Northern Ireland to cope with a rise in the number of people attending emergency departments was the right thing to do, the chief medical officer has said.

Dr Michael McBride apologised to those affected but said that in the last two weeks there were around 1,800 more patients at A&E departments than usual - a 7.5% spike.

"We must prioritise the care of the sickest and keep our hospitals safe," he told the BBC.

"I would apologise to those who had to wait longer - those who had non-urgent elective operations postponed."

He said both a pollution alert and icy weather had an effect on numbers and there had been a 10% increase in fracture patients.

Last Monday, 40 patients were waiting for more than 12 hours in A&Es and by Wednesday, it was one patient. As of 9am yesterday, no one was waiting more than 12 hours.

"We planned, we prepared and we responded," he said. "Look at those waiting for more than 12 hours. In 2011 to 2012, there were over 10,000.

"Last year was the lowest number. It was a 40% drop on the previous year. The number was 91 this December, compared to 145 last year.

"Nobody should be waiting that long, but it is an improving situation."

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