Health Minister Swann has said the latest waiting time figures provide a stark illustration of the impact of the COVID-19 on our health service.
Mr Swann continued: “A necessary focus on dealing with the virus created a virtual lockdown of normal health and social care services. This has had an inevitable and serious impact on waiting lists that were already far beyond being unacceptable.
“A lot of hard work is ongoing on the re-building of services. Last month, I announced important Initiatives on Day Surgery and Orthopaedics. Proposals are also being finalised for other key priority areas including cancer services and urgent and emergency care.
“Running both Covid and non-Covid services is a massive challenge. Work to re-build services will take time and will be entirely dependant on the path Covid will take. It is inevitable that there will be further hospital based outbreaks and clusters in the months ahead.
“Infection control measures are going to be with for us for some time and inevitably, despite our rebuilding efforts, this will have an adverse impact on waiting times for procedures. Trusts are doing all that they can to maximise theatre and bed capacity. These constraints are certainly not unique to Northern Ireland.
“We all have a role to play in protecting our health service and supporting our staff – by following the public health advice on social distancing, hand washing and wearing face coverings.
“Stopping the virus spreading helps protect services as well as people.
“We are facing a very difficult winter for an already very fragile health service.”