Northern Ireland’s health trusts are getting close to substantially reducing routine surgery across the healthcare system, BBC News NI understands.
It is believed more staff have been told they will be moved to work in Covid wards and intensive care units.
The move is expected to have a massive knock-on effect on routine surgery.
All six of NI’s health trusts, including the NI Ambulance Service, have reported being under strain due to the extra pressures of the pandemic.
The Department of Health reported on Tuesday that six more people had died in Northern Ireland after contracting Covid-19.
It brings its death toll, based on a positive test result being recorded, to 730.
A further 570 positive cases have been recorded bringing the Department of Health’s total to 40,179.
My understanding is that today managers across the healthcare system were looking at those surge plans that include cancelling elective surgery across the system.
Only a couple of hours ago, it’s believed that staff at Craigavon Area Hospital were instructed to scale up the number of beds in its intensive care unit from six to 16 – that will have a massive impact on staff in the area and on the number of services they can provide across the system.
I have been speaking to a number of managers and what they said to me is that they are doing their very utmost to retain services but it is becoming increasingly hard.
They will try to retain cancer surgery as a priority.
But, as one manager put it, next week we will probably be working in a much different health environment.
In another development, Health Minister Robin Swann has announced that testing of care home staff is to be increased from every fortnight to once a week.
The change is to be rolled out from next week to care homes across Northern Ireland.
There are currently outbreaks of Covid-19 in 117 care homes, up from 28 at the start of October.
Another 10 homes are dealing with a suspected outbreak, and incidents have been cleared in 245 homes.
Mr Swann said care homes remain on the front line in the battle against the virus and they should now make arrangements for the increased frequency in testing.
“I have asked officials to ensure this takes effect right across the sector as soon as possible,” he said.
“I do not underestimate the logistical challenges this will bring, but I have no doubt it is the right thing to do.”
Although the number of new cases in Northern Ireland has dropped in recent weeks, hospital admissions and inpatients are still rising as a result of the high infection rate.
The minister said the system is now dealing with the “serious consequences” of that.
“The more prevalent the virus is in our community, the greater the risk of it spreading into our care homes.”
Health trusts have been providing support for testing to the care home sector.
In other coronavirus-related developments in Northern Ireland: