CRAIGAVON Area and Daisy Hill hospitals are said to be "extremely busy" this evening (Sunday) as the Southern Trust struggles to cope under the pressures of COVID-19.
It comes as the Chief Executives of the six Health and Social Care Trusts have issued a stark warning about unbearable pressures across the system in Northern Ireland, in the event of a probable further COVID-19 spike in early January.
Posting on social media tonight the Trust said that it's staff had "responded superbly", adding that it had been able to open additional beds to support the high numbers of COVID-19 positive patients needing hospital care.
"Thank you to everyone who has reached out to offer help and support," it added.
"The situation is currently very difficult but stable and we expect this high level of demand to continue over the next few weeks. We are appealing to the public to work with us, follow the guidelines and do everything you can to support our health and care services during these unprecedented times."
In a joint statement issued this evening the Chief Executives of the Southern, Northern, Western, South Eastern and Belfast as well as the Ambulance Service said the health service was facing its most difficult time.
“Several of Northern Ireland’s acute hospitals are already operating beyond capacity and flow through hospitals has been seriously impacted by required restrictions as a result of COVID-19," they said.
"Add pre-existing staffing pressures and staff absence due to COVID-19 infection, or the need to self-isolate, and there is a very real risk that hospitals will be overwhelmed in the event of a further COVID-19 spike in January.
“We are not making this point lightly and as a result, we are appealing to the public to be extremely cautious over the festive period and to take all necessary precautions to stop the virus spreading."
The statement said staff were "extremely grateful" to the public for the sacrifices they had made and appealed for that continue.
“There has been a massive effort across society to combat the COVID-19 threat and many lives have undoubtedly been saved," it continued.
“We really need to maintain that collective spirit as the health service faces into its most difficult time of the year. We all want to relax, we all need to relax, over the Christmas period but that does not mean that we can ease up on our efforts to prevent COVID-19 spreading further."
Referring to the recent news about operations for cancer patients being cancelled, the Chief Executives said this continued to "weigh heavily on our minds".
The statement continued, "Rising numbers of COVID cases, hospital admissions and ICU admissions mean there will be ongoing restricted capacity for non-COVID care. But unfortunately staff simply cannot do two jobs at the same time. The best way to protect non-COVID care is to push down COVID infections."
Praising their colleagues, they continued, “We are also collectively placing on record our thanks and deep appreciation to all of our staff. There are no words to properly describe the incredible resilience, professionalism and compassion that we continue to witness every day from staff who are exhausted, physically and mentally, and traumatised as a result of this pandemic. This has been the most challenging year of their lives and we pay tribute to them all. Of course many staff will also be working over the holiday period and we give special thanks to them.
“All staff certainly deserve downtime with their families over the festive season. And they are entitled to enjoy Christmas without a feeling of dread about what they will be facing by the New Year.
“2021 can be a year of hope for us all as the vaccine programme rolls out over the course of many months. However, we first have to get through what we now face for the remainder of this winter period.
“Please play your part this Christmas and take no risks whatsoever in terms of actions that by now we all know will increase the spread of the virus. It is extremely infectious but it doesn’t move itself, people move it. We all can and must remember that.”