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Cash plea to ease heart ops 'trauma' in province

'These are not just figures on a balance sheet, but real people'

'These are not just figures on a balance sheet, but real people'ULSTER'S health chiefs today cried out for more cash to fund intensive care beds after a leading charity claimed hundreds of vital heart operations have been cancelled.

According to the Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke Association, 240 cardiac operations have been cancelled - two thirds postponed due to the desperate shortage of intensive care beds in the last year.

The charity's Chief Executive Andrew Dougal described the crisis as "unacceptable".

"People could die because they are not getting these operations and it has reached a point where the situation is critical.

"These are not just figures on a hospital balance sheet, but real people who undergo real trauma while waiting for surgery."

He added: "In France and Germany people wait six weeks for their operations. People in Northern Ireland have to wait over two years. We only spend two thirds of what France and Germany spend on health."

However, the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, which is the main cardiac unit in the province, said the figures were not accurate.

However, a spokeswoman said today: "We are likely to end up doing less heart operations this year than last because the type of patients we are treating are a little older, a little sicker and with more complex conditions." Despite a recent cash injection of £3.3m, the Health Minister Bairbre de Brun is under increasing pressure to put up more cash.

And she has just launched a review of ICU beds to tackle the problem.

Nearly all of the province's six golden hospitals have plunged into deficit - mainly due to the winter pressures.

The Royal Victoria Hospital, faces a huge deficit of more than £6m by the end of the financial year.

RVH chairman Dr Paul McWiliams said: "We are just underfunded, it's as simple as that." The Ulster Community and Hospitals Trust, which runs the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald and two community hospitals in the area faces a similar financial crisis.

Its estimated deficit of £2m is four times that of last year.

Craigavon Hospital is also under severe pressure with a deficit of £3m and the Antrim Area Hospital faced a deficit of £750,000 before the current beds crisis.

Meanwhile, as the flu outbreak continues to subside, most hospitals, although still under pressure, are "coping well".

Flu watchROYAL VICTORIA: No non-urgent operations.

CRAIGAVON: No non-urgent operations.

ANTRIM: No non-urgent operations.