Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland Council, said: “These plans paint a highly concerning picture of a health service at the brink of collapse during what will be the worst winter ever for its staff who treat the most sick and vulnerable in our society. Every trust is projecting a significant shortfall in bed capacity across winter and make clear that current workforce capacity, plus existing staffing vacancies and absences associated with COVID-19, will be key challenges this winter. They also make clear that elective care operations will be affected, which is concerning for frontline doctors as their patients could potentially have to wait longer for life-saving treatment.
“We are already seeing January 2021 levels of pressure now, today, in October. The risk of the health service collapsing has never been greater than it is now. Our doctors, nurses and other health service staff who have been at the forefront of this pandemic for 18months, have never been more exhausted and now face a winter like they have never experienced before in their professional lives
“We appreciate the Department of Health and Trusts are in a difficult position and doing the best they can with limited resources in a situation that is changing hourly. However, years of systematic underinvestment in our health service and its workforce has been a major contributor to where we are now. We would urge the Department, health trusts and the Executive to listen to health service staff, urgently prioritise the transformation of the health service, including a proper workforce planning strategy, at the earliest opportunity once this imminent surge is over, assuming we have a health service left after winter.
“In the meantime, we owe it to our exhausted health service staff, our hospitals, our family members languishing on waiting lists to do what we can to mitigate against this virus this winter: come forward for the flu jab and vaccine; limit social contacts; practice good hand hygiene and wear a facemask where you can in enclosed spaces.”