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Over 8,000 hospital admissions called off to free up beds for coronavirus patients in Northern Ireland

More than 8,000 hospital admissions - both in-patient and day-case procedures - have been cancelled in Northern Ireland over the past month.

Since the start of April alone some 2,733 elective admissions have not taken place here.

Over the past fortnight, this consisted of 220 inpatient admissions, 2,377 day-case admissions, and 136 regular attenders.

The figures highlight the impact of coronavirus on the wider health system.

Many routine procedures and appointments have had to be postponed.

Since March 18, a total of 8,365 elective admissions have not taken place.

Broken down by category, it means 7,303 elective day-care admissions, 776 elective in-patient admissions, and 286 appointments by regular attenders have all been cancelled.

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) yesterday apologised to patients, insisting it is the result of emergency planning for the pandemic.

In a statement to this newspaper, the board said: "As part of HSC-wide 'surge' planning in relation to coronavirus (Covid-19), routine appointments, tests, and surgeries across Northern Ireland were cancelled.

"This was to free up much-needed capacity and resources to allow our dedicated, skilled and professional staff to care for the most seriously ill Covid-19 patients, whilst at the same time ensuring that other patients could continue to access a wide range of urgent health and social care services."

Apologising to patients, the HSCB acknowledged their patience and understanding in what it described as "these exceptional circumstances".

It added: "Every effort will be made to undertake additional activity in elective specialties after the pandemic to ensure patients whose procedures have been postponed are seen in a timely way.

"However, this will be heavily dependent on the availability of additional non-recurrent funding to address the gap between normal funded health service capacity and the additional demand for assessment and/or treatment."

Across the UK it is estimated that 2.1 million routine operations have been cancelled from this week for at least three months, as hospitals in all four regions prepare for the coronavirus peak to hit services.

Joint replacements, cataract removals and hernia repairs are among the elective surgeries postponed until "further notice".

This action will, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, free up around 12,000 beds for Covid-19 patients.

Belfast Telegraph