A top Ulster hospital was forced to close its doors to emergency patients for five hours yesterday due to what it called 'extreme pressure'.
The accident and emergency department at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald was so inundated that it had to ask Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital to accept 999 patients who would normally have been brought to the north Down unit for treatment.
An Ambulance Service spokesman said the diversion lasted from 9.30am to 2.30pm, and that at least six patients were affected by the temporary block on emergency arrivals to the Ulster Hospital.
A spokeswoman for the South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust said: "The emergency department is particularly busy at present and a temporary ambulance divert is currently in place to divert all patients for a period of time to hospitals within the Belfast Trust area for appropriate treatment.
"Due to an unprecedented number of people attending the Emergency Department at the Ulster Hospital yesterday, the Department remains under extreme pressure. We have taken steps to create additional capacity in the hospital to ensure that patients will be admitted as quickly as possible."
Outpatient clinics were also cancelled at the Ulster Hospital in order to free up medical and nursing staff to help cope with the A&E department pressures.
Before putting the ambulance diversion in place, the hospital would have contacted the RVH to check it was able to accept the 'overflow' of patients.
Once the diversion was agreed, the Ambulance Service was asked to send its vehicles conveying patients to the 'backup' A&E unit at the RVH.
"This is a long-standing arrangement between the Ambulance Service and hospitals, when one emergency department is experiencing significant pressures," the spokesperson for the South Eastern Trust told reporters.