Planned surgeries cancelled at children's hospital
Northern Ireland's only dedicated children's hospital has had to cancel all planned surgeries because of an increase in admissions.
The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children has blamed a spike in early seasonal bronchiolitis and confirmed its 12-bed intensive care unit is currently full.
The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said a plan had been put in place to deal with the situation.
"Due to a spike in early seasonal bronchiolitis, the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children has had an increased number of admissions.
"This is also affecting paediatric services across the region. We are sorry that we have had to postpone all planned paediatric surgery today and for the inconvenience and stress that this may have caused our patients and their families.
"This is not a decision we have taken lightly. Postponing planned surgery is one of a number ways to enhance our ability to look after the sickest patients first."
Bronchiolitis is a chest infection caused by a virus which is common in children up to two years of age. Some children require intensive care treatment because of breathing difficulties.
In such cases, antibiotics are ineffective and the viral infection has to run its course.
The Trust added: "Throughout the UK, there are currently an exceptionally high number of children suffering from bronchiolitis and this has placed a high demand on beds in the regional Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in recent days. As a result, all PICU beds are full.
"However, there is an established Regional Escalation Plan aimed at ensuring safe transfer of patients between specialist centres to guarantee that a sick child requiring admission will always be accommodated if necessary."
Meanwhile, the hospital has also restricted the number of visitors in a bid to stop the spread of infection. Only parents or guardians are being permitted on to the wards.
Although the decision has been described as a precautionary measure, the Trusts said it would only be relaxed when "safe".
A statement said: "Visiting at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children is now restricted to parents and guardians only (maximum two people) to prevent the spread of winter viruses that can be particularly harmful to babies and small children who are already ill."