If the first week of January had been a little colder, the health crisis in Northern Irish hospitals could have been much more grave.
That is according to Ray Rafferty of health union Unison, who said his staff had only just managed to cope with the surge in demand last week, which resulted in all trusts cancelling operations.
Mr Rafferty, who represents around 3,500 staff at the Royal Victoria Hospital, said by the start of this week everything should be back to normal.
“We haven’t had the snow and ice which would cause a lot more fractures; we’ve been lucky as far as the weather and so on is concerned,” he said.
“Overall the difficulty is there’s been that number of cuts to beds available over the last four-to-five years, that we are running close to capacity all the time.”
He said many of the extra admissions were respiratory, and asked what would have happened if the weather had been colder, he said: “I think we’d have been in major difficulties to be perfectly honest. We coped – just about. We’ve been lucky this time.”
He said that the number of beds in the hospital is about 740, with the Belfast-wide total being about 1,600.
But over around four-to-five years the number of beds at the Royal site has dropped by about 350 to 400.
Asked the reasons behind the surge in pressure last week, the Health and Social Care Board said: “The priority this week has been to meet the needs of these patients, many of who remain in hospital and to address the pressures in emergency departments.
“It is too early to comment on the reasons for the increased level of attendances.”