Health authorities have been forced to apologise again ahead of the cancellation of around 1,000 more hospital appointments as industrial action continues into next week.
Trade unions representing nurses, carers, porters, cleaners and other health workers are locked in an industrial dispute with their employers over staffing levels and a disparity in pay with other parts of the UK.
The trade union Unison is set to continue industrial action, which has been ongoing for the past fortnight, throughout next week.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), meanwhile, is planning industrial action short of a strike for 48 hours — on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Around 900 routine outpatient appointments that had been scheduled to take place on those two days have now been cancelled by the Belfast Trust.
In the Western Trust, disruption is expected at hospital sites on Monday and Wednesday, with a specific warning in place about industrial action by nursing and health visiting in hospitals and community teams from 8am to 2pm on Monday.
The Northern Trust has also warned that “a small number of inpatient, day case procedures and diagnostics” will be cancelled, with disruption to services at the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine expected on Wednesday.
The Southern and South-Eastern health trusts had not issued any specific warnings about cancellations last night, but some degree of disruption is expected across Northern Ireland.
The problems in the health service are set to intensify during a major day of action on December 18, when targeted strikes by nursing staff from both the RCN and Unison will take place.
A further two trade unions, Unite and NIPSA, will also join in the industrial action on December 18, exactly one week before Christmas.
The Health and Social Care Board has repeatedly apologised to patients following the cancellation, to date, of thousands of appointments.
In a statement, the HSCB said today: “All health and social care organisations will continue to work closely together to mitigate the effects of any disruption from industrial action with a strong focus on patient safety.
“We apologise for the stress and anxiety caused to all those patients, clients and family members who have been and may be affected.”
This comes after a flurry of talks failed to break the deadlock on Thursday night. An improved pay offer was made by the Department of Health but rejected by trade unions.