The Western Trust may have to cancel cancer operations in a matter of days due to demands on the service, health bosses have warned.
Geraldine McKay, director of acute hospitals at the trust, has revealed the step will be necessary if more than 16 people need critical care at Altnagelvin Hospital at any one time.
Outlining the current situation within the trust at a media briefing this afternoon, Ms McKay said there are 10 critical care patients in the hospital.
The intensive care unit has capacity for three more patients, with plans to increase this to 14 and then 16 to deal with an “extreme surge”.
At this stage, if any more patients require intensive care within the trust, they will be diverted to the Nightingale Hospital, which is situated at Belfast City Hospital in the south of the city.
Ms McKay said this will also be the point at which the trust would be forced to cancel red flag surgery.
Asked if this could happen within days, she responded: “Yes.”
She also warned that staffing shortages may also play a part in the decision.
However, Neil Guckian, director of finance and contracting at the trust, provided some encouragement.
Pointing to the fact that Covid positive cases appear to be declining, he said: “The lockdown is working.”
He urged the public to adhere to the strict guidance in place in a bid to reduce the pressure on the buckling health service.
Meanwhile, Ms McKay asked people to refrain from any activities that may put them at risk of injury, which would require emergency treatment.
“If people do go out, they could fall on the ice and break their leg,” she said.
The health service in Northern Ireland is inching closer to breaking point due to the increasing number of seriously ill Covid-19 patients.
On Sunday evening, the Western Trust appealed to all off-duty staff to go to the South West Acute Hospital to help out after it agreed to accept patients from the Southern Trust.
The move came after Daisy Hill and Craigavon Area hospitals came under severe pressure at the weekend.