Health service staff are feeling strain of a sector in crisis
Northern Ireland’s health service has faced unprecedented pressure in recent months.
The deadly pseudomonas outbreak led to the death of three babies in the Royal Jubilee Maternity Unit in Belfast in January, while another newborn died at Londonderry's Altnagelvin Hospital in December from the infection, which is usually found in stagnant water.
On January 30, 2012, Health Minister Edwin Poots called for a review of the circumstances leading to the incidents.
Among the damning findings, the report concluded that the neonatal unit in Belfast should be urgently replaced to improve infection control.
But the strain has been showing in hospitals across the province for months.
The closure of the A&E at Belfast City Hospital last November resulted in more patients turning up at the Ulster Hospital looking for treatment, placing pressure on medical staff. Before it was shut, trade union representatives from Belfast City Hospital warned that closing the department could have disastrous consequences.
But the Royal Victoria Hospital's A&E department has become the main hub of emergency care in Belfast, and anticipated dealing with an extra 30,000 patients a year.
The casualty unit at Antrim Area Hospital has experienced extreme difficulties since the closure of the A&Es at Mid Ulster and Whiteabbey hospitals in 2010.
During one busy period last year, a prominent Northern Ireland GP said the A&E at Antrim Area Hospital was busier than a Belfast city centre hospital at the height of the Troubles.
The problem for casualty departments has been exacerbated by the overnight closure of the A&E at Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn.
On January 13 this year it was reported that several of Northern Ireland's Accidnet and Emergency departments were under so much pressure that staff were advised to discharge patients and cancel operations to free up beds.
The pressure on staff has led to major concerns over the quality of patient care.