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Sad day for Northern Ireland if money goes back from health budget, say NI surgeons

28 Jan 2021

The Royal College of Surgeons in Northern Ireland met with the Health Minister to show support for his efforts in utilising unspent Covid-19 funding to keep surgery going through the challenges of the pandemic.

In a very productive meeting with Minister Swann yesterday, the surgeons highlighted ways in which some of the underspend in the health budget could get surgery going again, by shoring up COVID-light surgical areas across the five trust areas. 

The Director and Northern Ireland Board members of the Royal College of Surgeons highlighted other solutions, including stronger access to the independent sector and equitable allocation of nursing, theatre and anaesthetic staff. They also explained challenges staff were facing getting theatre space and a full surgical team to undertake urgent and time-dependent operations.

The surgical leaders from a range of specialties including cancer, ENT, general surgery and neurosurgery, also briefed the Minister on the health impact of the delays on patients. 

Mr Mark Taylor, Northern Ireland Director of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, commented:
“It would be a sad day for NI and our Government if we had to hand back much needed money when our situation is so dire. Patients expect us to take every opportunity we can to keep urgent surgery going during these difficult times and we want to do exactly just that.

“We know that the Executive are seeking flexibility from the Treasury to enable Stormont to roll money over to the next financial year and we sincerely hope they are successful because our waiting lists are horrendous.

“At the last count, we had more than 327,000 patients waiting for their first outpatient appointment with a consultant, while we had nearly 100,000 people waiting to be admitted to hospitals. The new Government waiting lists figures are out next month and I know they will be worse.

“NI already had a backlog of surgery. This legacy of waiting lists and system failures is nothing new. The challenge of fixing NI’s health service was already in the pipeline before the pandemic. 

“However we must act now. We have to try and get surgery going again, and give patients hope. The Health Minister said only a few weeks ago that operations will take place for those most in need, when available hospital capacity becomes available and we welcomed that regional approach. 

“This new regional approach may involve patients or surgeons travelling to those hospitals that have space for surgical patients.  We know that patients waiting for urgent operations would rather travel to a different hospital for their operation if that’s the only safe place they can be treated right now.  We must always remember behind the figures and the rhetoric are people waiting in pain and distress for diagnosis and treatment.”

Notes to editors

1.   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

2.   For more information or interview requests, please contact: Tel: 020 7869 6047/6052  Out-of-hours: 020 7869 6056

3.   RCS England latest guidance on how surgery can be kept going through COVID is available here:

4.   The College welcomed Minister Swann’s recent commitment to greater regional coordination, to keep urgent surgery going here: 

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