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60 operations cancelled amid bed crisis at Northern Ireland hospitals

By David Young

More than 60 scheduled operations - including cancer surgery - had to be cancelled across two major Northern Ireland hospitals this week.

Patients who were to receive elective surgery at Craigavon Area Hospital and Daisy Hill in Newry were turned away due to what a spokeswoman called "extreme bed pressures" at the two facilities.

A Southern Health Trust spokeswoman last night offered an apology for any inconvenience caused.

She said: "A number of planned surgical lists at Craigavon Area Hospital and Daisy Hill Hospital were cancelled on Tuesday and Wednesday due to extreme bed pressures. These included a small number of 'red flag' procedures.

"Emergency surgery continued as normal.

"We are very sorry for the inconvenience and distress caused to patients and we will do everything we can to re-schedule these operations as soon as possible, with priority given to the most urgent surgery." Extreme bed pressures are caused when fewer patients are leaving than are being admitted.

Most NHS hospitals operate with around 90-95% of beds occupied at anyone time, so small changes in demand for admission, or delays in patients being discharged, can have immediate and serious knock-on effects.

In January, Craigavon Area Hospital also had to reschedule surgery due to pressures beyond its control.

This week's difficulties at the Southern Trust hospitals at Craigavon and Newry come as pressures on the NHS are intensifying.

Northern Ireland's Health and Social Care Board estimates that the health service here will have to make more than a billion pounds in savings over the next two years. Earlier this year, the Department of Health asked Northern Ireland's health trusts to make £70m in savings this year.

But just this week, embattled NHS providers received reprieve when £40m in money redistributed from other departments was made available to them - easing the immediate financial pressure.

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