People seriously injured in traffic accidents and cancer patients could be among those who don't get life-saving treatment during the coronavirus pandemic, it has been warned.
A senior healthcare figure has said the risk to the public amid the Covid-19 pandemic goes further than patients who become critically ill with the virus.
“The shortage of beds, operating theatres and ventilators reaches more than just Covid-19 patients,” he said.
“You could be pulling out of your driveway in a few weeks and have an accident and you need an operation, but if all the theatres are being used to ventilate patients, you aren’t going to get the operation.”
The comments come as the health service presses ahead with arrangements to use the three biggest private hospitals in Northern Ireland as growing numbers of people are hospitalised with coronavirus.
It is finalising plans to use the facilities at the Ulster Independent Clinic and Kingsbridge Private Hospital, both in south Belfast, and North West Independent Clinic in Ballykelly, in the weeks ahead. Pneumonia is one of the life-threatening complications of Covid-19, resulting in patients needing to be ventilated to help them breathe.
However, there are inadequate ventilators currently available in Northern Ireland to meet the potential demand if the predicted surge in cases happens.
It has led to claims that doctors will be left in the devastating position where they will have to choose which patients are given life-threatening treatments.
The health service was already struggling to cope before all this happened. I’m not talking people waiting for routine operations being affected, I’m talking about people with life-threatening and life-changing conditions and injuriesLeading health service figure
Yesterday, the Mater Hospital was designated as the Belfast Trust’s Covid-19 Hospital.
The Trust revealed: “We plan to divert all respiratory ambulance admissions within the Belfast Trust area to the Mater Hospital.”
The Mater’s Emergency Department will close to walk in admissions from today.
A leading health service figure has said that the fact that they are preparing for a surge in critically ill Covid-19 patients “means that the whole service is going to come under extreme pressure”.
He said: “Doctors and nurses are being diverted from their normal work, beds and wards are going to be filled.
“It might even get to the point where we don’t have enough ventilators.
“The health service was already struggling to cope before all this happened. I’m not talking people waiting for routine operations being affected, I’m talking about people with life-threatening and life-changing conditions and injuries.
“It might be someone with breast cancer who needs a lumpectomy before they begin chemotherapy.
“They may not be able to get the surgery done immediately which delays the chemotherapy and you might have someone who isn’t terminal today who has a much bleaker outcome as a result of the delay.
“I’m talking about appendicitis, strangulated hernia, trauma victims.
“I am already hearing examples of patients with very serious conditions not getting their operations because of the pressures in the hospitals, and it is only going to get worse before it gets better.
“So, the message to people who don’t think they are at risk from coronavirus is that this is bigger than that, the whole of the health service is going to be affected.”
Health officials are currently putting in place a wide range of measures to increase the number of beds available to the NHS.
In addition to using the private sector, they are also discharging patients from hospital before proper community care packages are put in place.
Friends and relatives of patients are being asked to provide the support and care until an adequate package can be implemented.