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Surgeons welcome Northern Ireland Health Minister’s plans for more COVID-light sites and workforce appeal

22 Sep 2021

The Royal College of Surgeons of England has welcomed the Health Minister’s plans to increase the number of COVID-light sites to help keep surgery going during the winter, as well as his latest call out to retired health care staff to work inside the green elective care sites.

Mr Mark Taylor, Director for Northern Ireland of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:

“All too often during this pandemic, we have seen regular delays and cancellations of surgery, including time-critical and time-dependent surgery, as waves of COVID-19 hit our community.

“We are also seeing more people in hospital requiring emergency care, which takes surgical teams away from planned activities.

“We support the Minister’s fresh call and urge recently retired health workers to consider making a return to the health service to help us deliver important elective surgery this winter.

“Alongside the continuing pressures of COVID-19 on our hospitals, we have a huge backlog of planned elective operations. This is affecting patients deeply - as well as the health system from primary care to the emergency department.

“The College has long recommended the rollout of elective surgical hubs on COVID-light sites. These hubs separate elective surgery from emergency care. They are the best way to keep surgery going if there are further outbreaks of COVID-19, flu or other winter-related pressures.

“We hope that today’s workforce appeal, together with the Minister’s commitment to placing those staff on elective surgical hubs, will offer hope to patients who have been waiting far too long for the surgery they desperately need.”

Notes to editors

1. Health Minister Robin Swann announced this afternoon the administration’s plans to keep surgery going through winter, unveiling an appeal to retired workforce and plans for more COVID-light sites i.e. elective surgical hubs – to help keep some surgery going. The television announcement was streamed via:

2. Robin Swann’s workforce appeal is aimed at staff who are fully skilled and have recently left the service, as well as those recently qualified and not currently working in the HSC. People from a wide range of staffing categories are needed, including medical, anaesthetics, nursing (theatre, recovery and ward experience will be essential), administrative, pharmacy and porters. Those who come forward will be posted to elective surgery hubs across Trusts where planned surgery can continue safely throughout this winter. These hubs will work to maintain as much elective surgery as possible in the coming months.

3. The plans echo recommendations made in the College’s Northern Ireland Action Plan for Surgical Recovery: 10 Steps Not 10 Years, which is available to read here:

4. Data from HSCB on the latest number of cancelled surgeries can be found here: During 10-16 September 2021 there were 312 cancellations including 127 Red Flag suspected cancer procedures or confirmed cancer procedures. DOH latest waiting list figures can be seen here:

5. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is represented in Northern Ireland by a Professional Board of 20 surgeons reflecting the specialty areas of: Neurosurgery, ENT, Paediatrics, General Surgery, Trauma and Orthopaedics, Plastics, Urology, Vascular, Cardiothoracic and OMFS. The Board includes regional specialty advisors, Association of Surgeons in Training (ASiT), QUB Medical School Surgical Society, NIMDTA Head of the School of Surgery and an RCS England Council member. The purpose of the Board is to improve surgical outcomes for patients, advocate locally and support the dissemination of good practice and professional guidance.

6. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office:

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