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Coronavirus Northern Ireland: Theatre capacity to be allocated to those most in need as 20 deaths and 1,500 new cases reported

  • Death toll rises to 1,434
  • Cases since outbreak now 86,146
  • Executive holds meeting over transfer tests
  • Nisra stats put Covid-related death toll at 1,895
  • Scroll down to read Friday's live blog


The health minister has approved a new regional approach to address cancelled surgeries (PA)

The health minister has approved a new regional approach to address cancelled surgeries (PA)


The health minister has approved a new regional approach to address cancelled surgeries (PA)

Health Minister Robin Swann has said hospital operating theatres across Northern Ireland will be allocated to patients most in need during and after the virus surge.

Although some patients may need to travel further to have surgery, Mr Swann said this approach will maximise theatre capacity across Northern Ireland and avail of all capacity in both the health and social care and independent sector.

It's after several health and social care trusts this week confirmed the downturn of elective surgery due to the pressures caused by Covid-19.

"I would rather see the highest priority treatments delivered elsewhere in Northern Ireland than not at all," said Mr Swann in a written statement to the assembly on Friday. "It is my firm expectation that inter-Trust transfers for the highest clinical priority cases will be facilitated."

It comes ahead of the third surge of the virus, which Mr Swann said is expected on the third week of January.

The UUP politician hit back at suggestions some medical conditions are being prioritised over others, saying it is "incredibly offensive" to accuse frontline staff of doing so. Their goal remains to treat the sickest patients most quickly, he said.

"I hope no member will resort to making such claims. It is long past time that this falsehood was nailed once and for all. Indeed, anyone making such an allegation is insulting health staff who are battling the most appalling pressures and facing decisions no one should have to grapple with."

It's along with the challenges that were already facing the health service pre-pandemic, which will take years to rectify and involve the training of specialist nurses and doctors, he said.

Mr Swann said he has been assured the most urgent surgery will be protected "where this is achievable" and that postponed operations will be rescheduled "as quickly as possible".

"I deeply regret any patient experiencing postponements of this nature," he said. "The increase in cases among the over 60 age bracket will drive escalating pressures on our health system."

It's estimated that in some parts of Northern Ireland as many as 1 in 40 people currently have Covid-19.

To date, in the region of 74,000 vaccinations have been administered, 65,000 of which are first doses.

A further 20 deaths were reported on Friday, along with 1,500 new cases of the virus.

It brings the death toll to 1,434 and the total number of confirmed cases since the outbreak to 86,146. Some 11,075 people have tested positive in the last seven days.

All 20 fatalities happened within the current reporting period, from 10am on Thursday to 10am on Friday.

There are currently 641 Covid patients in hospitals across Northern Ireland, with 45 in intensive care and 36 requiring ventilation.

A total of 137 care homes are dealing with outbreaks of the virus.

The news comes after former Stormont Education Minister John O'Dowd said the Executive "is not going to collapse" over the issue of transfer tests - and there will be no row over the issue.

Stormont ministers met on Friday to discuss the topic, which reportedly has divided the Executive.

Transfer tests were due to be held over the next five weeks, beginning on Saturday, however these were cancelled by exam providers on Tuesday, except for a sole AQE test to run in February.

Meanwhile, separate figures put the Covid-related death toll in Northern Ireland at 1,895, after 91 deaths linked to the virus were recorded by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) in the week to January 1.

Here's how Friday unfolded:

Belfast Telegraph