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Cancer ops halted as crisis bites

CANCER operations at one of Ulster's leading hospitals are being postponed because of the beds crisis, it can be revealed today.

CANCER operations at one of Ulster's leading hospitals are being postponed because of the beds crisis, it can be revealed today.

The Ulster Hospital in Dundonald has had to take the decision to cancel a number of operations because it could not provide intensive care beds afterwards for the patients.

Dr Jim McFarland, medical director at the hospital, said the situation was unacceptable but pointed out that the hospital could not take the risk of performing an operation and then finding no bed available.

The news came as health chiefs at the hospital opened their doors to the Belfast Telegraph to demonstrate the severe pressure being placed on both resources and staff.

An emergency meeting between senior nursing advisers and human resources managers was due to take place today to address the staffing crisis.

A massive 220 of the 1,200 nurses in the hospital are currently off sick - a reduction of almost a fifth.

But emergency admissions are almost 30% up on last year and the Accident and Emergency department is treating almost twice as many people a day as the unit can hold.

Professor Sydney Salmon, Director of Nursing at the hospital, has called for funding for more nurses and more beds immediately.

"We have been at crisis point for a while and are now at breaking point with the nursing workforce."

The illustration of the crisis at the Ulster mirrors similar problems at hospitals across the province.

All of the province's top hospitals have agreed to limit the number of non-urgent surgical admissions for the next week to alleviate the pressure.

Meanwhile, Health Minister, Bairbre be Brun, today commissioned two reviews aimed at helping address perceived causes of the problem.

Dr Henrietta Campbell, the province's Chief Medical Officer, is to conduct a review of intensive care bed provision in Northern Ireland.

And Dr Kevin McCoy, Chief Social Services Inspector, is to take a look at the issue of care in the community, including the elderly.

One of the reasons cited by health sources for the shortage of beds at present is the amount of non-acute elderly patients using beds in hospitals.

A spokesman for the minister said she was still determined to ensure every effort was made to deal with the current problems and attempt to stop the problem re-occurring.

The Health Committee at the Assembly is due to meet after its festive break on both Monday and Wednesday.

The crisis is expected to be discussed briefly on Monday morning when the Health Minister will be present, although that behind-closed-doors meeting will predominantly focus on the future of maternity care in Belfast.

But Tommy Gallagher, committee vice-chairman and SDLP MLA for Fermanagh and south Tyrone, said the health crisis would be the subject of a full, frank and lengthy discussion on Wednesday afternoon.