Welsh health board cancels all non-urgent operations to focus on booster rollout
A Welsh health board has apologised after cancelling all non-urgent operations with immediate effect to concentrate its efforts on the booster rollout programme.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, in north Wales, said it had taken the decision “reluctantly” but said it was the “best way of protecting our workforce and delivering our vaccination programme”.
All non-urgent operations, procedures and outpatient appointments have been postponed while emergency surgery, urgent cancer treatment and maternity services will continue across the board’s three main hospitals, it said.
The board added: “Last week we more than doubled the previous week’s vaccination rate – administering a record 66,000 jabs, including 24,000 over the weekend alone.
“Our staff are pulling out all the stops to administer booster jabs to all eligible adults in the next 10 days, ahead of an anticipated peak in Omicron cases in January.
“Getting booster jabs into the arms of all eligible adults over the next 10 days is critical if we are to protect NHS services in January.
“This represents a huge challenge – particularly as we are forecasting that a significant number of staff may be absent from work due to Covid-19 infection or self-isolation over the coming weeks.
“To ensure that we can deploy our staff as effectively as possible, we have reluctantly taken the very difficult decision to postpone non-urgent operations, procedures and outpatient appointments with immediate effect from December 20.”
Dr Nick Lyons, the board’s executive medical director, said: “We understand this will be distressing news for patients who are expecting to undergo an operation or receive their appointment over the coming weeks and I sincerely apologise for this.
“We will be regularly reviewing these changes in light of emerging evidence and transmission rates across North Wales.”
Tory shadow North Wales minister Darren Millar MS said: “This news is a devastating blow for the one in five people across North Wales who are waiting for appointments, procedures and operations, and it will be particularly distressing for the more than 40,000 people who have been waiting for longer than 12 months for treatment.
“Lengthy delays can lead to worse patient outcomes and severely impact people’s mental health and wellbeing so we need clarity on how the Health Board and Welsh NHS more generally intends to catch up with the work it is postponing once appointments and operations recommence.”
It comes as another health board, Cwm Taf Bro Morgannwg, which covers Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf, and Bridgend in the south of Wales, sent a letter to patients urging them to help local NHS services survive through the winter.
In a joint letter with the Welsh Ambulance Service and local councils, the board said: “Winter is here, and normally, as health and local councils, we would be finalising our plans on how we will deal with the pressures the colder weather brings us every year. This year is very, very different.
“The pressure on all of our services is already here and that is before we get into the peak of winter.
“This is a bleak picture, but we want to be completely honest with you about the scale of the challenge we are all facing,” it added.
Listing the pressures it is facing, it said emergency departments are extremely busy, ambulance services are stretched, GPs are under pressure, as is the whole health and social care system due to managing Covid-19.
Among the ways of helping, people were advised to get the Covid-19 vaccines, winter flu jab, and continue following rules such as wearing face masks indoors.
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