The body that commissions health services in Northern Ireland has warned more surgeries could be postponed as hospitals cope with increasing numbers of patients with Covid-19.
The Health and Social Care Board said on Friday that hospitals across the North were continuing to experience "immense pressures dealing with increased demand for urgent and emergency care, coupled with rising Covid-19 infections".
It said the number of patients on respiratory support has increased “which is likely to translate into further ICU pressures over the coming days and weeks.
“The only way to expand ICU beds is to further redeploy specialist staff to look after critical care patients, as a result it is sadly inevitable that more planned procedures may be postponed to enable this,” the board said.
A total of 359 people were receiving hospital treatment for the virus in the North on Friday, with 44 in intensive care.
A “sizeable proportion” of Covid-19 patients in hospital are unvaccinated, the board said, and these include younger people and pregnant women.
It said that of all Covid-19 patients in intensive care on Thursday, 60 per cent were unvaccinated and 13 per cent had received only one jab.
The board said it had also had recent cases of unvaccinated pregnant women needing ICU care and emergency Caesarean sections.
Dr George Gardiner, an ICU consultant with the Belfast Health Trust, said the pressures were "going to affect and is affecting elective surgery and all elective procedures and urgent procedures".
He said: “In order to cope with the level of demand, we are having to stress the system to the limit and we may have to go beyond that.”
Dr Gardiner said critically-ill patients were now “younger, much younger and often without anything else wrong with them” and urged anyone who had not been vaccinated to get the jab.
“From what we’re seeing in intensive care, this is not a disease that you want to expose yourself to unnecessarily,” he said.
The deaths of four people with Covid-19 were reported by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland on Friday. One of the fatalities occurred in the previous 24-hour reporting period and the remainder before then.
A further 1,389 new cases of the virus were confirmed.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health in the Republic said on Friday that work was “ongoing” to expand the availability of the digital Covid certificate to Irish passport holders who have been vaccinated with a vaccine approved for use in Ireland in other jurisdictions (including Northern Ireland).
However, the department also said people who were “vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 in another jurisdiction will need to access the digital Covid certificate in that country”.
Data released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) on Friday showed there were 26 deaths in the North linked to Covid-19 in the week to August 6th.
It brings the total number of fatalities recorded by Nisra to 3,056, compared with the 2,217 recorded by the North’s Department of Health in the same period.
The Nisra figures are higher than the department’s total because data is based on death certificates where Covid-19 has been recorded as a factor by a medical professional, whereas the figures released daily by the department only include those who tested positive for the virus. – Additional reporting: PA