Page last updated at 22:51 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Hospitals face 'extreme pressure'

Ulster Hospital, Dundonald
The Ulster Hospital at Dundonald has been diverting emergencies

Belfast's hospitals have said they have been under "extreme pressure" dealing with emergencies.

It follows the closure of the A&E department at the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald to some admissions.

A spokesperson for the Royal, City and Mater said they were doing their best to cope and "treat patients safely".

Charlie Martin, the Ulster's medical director, said cases of the winter flu bug had been a "significant contributory factor" in the closure.

"We also serve a wide catchment area and we have an elderly population," he said.

"When these people get the flu and get respiratory illnesses they're particularly sick and spend a lot longer in hospital and take longer to recover."

Earlier on Wednesday, the Ulster advised members of the public not to go to the hospital, unless it was extremely urgent.

In a statement, the hospital said a "range of measures were in place to manage the situation".

It said staff were working with Belfast Trust colleagues to ensure all patients across the area were being treated.

The hospital said it had put "a temporary divert on all ambulances arriving at the hospital, within agreed protocols".

It said the situation was well "under control", but some patients were "experiencing longer than acceptable waiting times for admission to hospital".

John Compton, Chief Executive of the South Eastern Trust, said "dedicated staff were working flat out in very difficult circumstances".

Earlier this month, the Northern Health Trust cancelled all non-urgent elective surgery at Antrim and Causeway hospitals, as resources were stretched.

It said both hospitals had seen increased numbers of people, particularly the elderly, with flu-like symptoms and chest infections.

The Belfast Health Trust also had to cancel some operations because of the number of patients with flu symptoms.

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