Northern Ireland’s health service is under “unprecedented pressures”, Robin Swann has said.
The Health Minister warned the system as a whole is struggling to cope with current levels of demand for care, leaving hospital emergency departments, GP services and the ambulance service under particular strain.
Mr Swann spoke of his regret at “long and distressing waiting times for patients”.
He also expressed concern at reports of aggressive and abusive behaviour towards staff.
Despite the trauma and exhaustion caused by Covid, staff are working relentlessly to treat the sickest people quickestHealth Minister Robin Swann
Mr Swann urged the public to help by using services appropriately and doing all they can to stay well over the summer.
“The current level of pressure is at least on a par with what is normally experienced in winter,” he said.
“Our health and social care system was fragile before the pandemic and the last 18 months have inflicted untold damage.
“The truth is that the system as a whole is struggling to cope with current levels of demand for care. This is severely impacting emergency departments, GP services, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and other areas.
“It is leading in many cases to long and distressing waiting times for patients. That is a deeply regrettable state of affairs. I would appeal to the public to support and work with staff as they deal with this unprecedented and deeply frustrating situation.”
Mr Swann said he has received reports of aggressive and abusive behaviour towards some staff and urged respect for workers.
“Staff understand the frustrations of the public. Indeed, they share them. So do I,” he said.
“Staff have not created the current situation, nor can they flick a switch and fix them.
“Despite the trauma and exhaustion caused by Covid, staff are working relentlessly to treat the sickest people quickest.
“Please respect them and help them do their jobs in these extremely difficult conditions.”
Mr Swann said he has published road maps for tackling the waiting list crisis and rebuilding cancer services, and a 10-year mental health strategy, adding he is pressing for sustained and substantial investment in health.
He also reiterated his encouragement to come forward to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
“By getting fully vaccinated, with both doses of your vaccine, you will be playing an important part in supporting our health service. Continuing to follow public health advice on preventing Covid infection is also vital,” he added.