By Rebecca Black, PA
A rejig of some hospital services in Northern Ireland has been announced amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn is set to become the region's first day procedure centre to allow elective surgeries to continue during a potential second spike of Covid-19 cases in the autumn.
The development of this centre will be carried out in what the Department of Health has described as a phased way in order to minimise the impact on existing service users.
The emergency department and the new day procedure centre will be managed separately without impacting on each other, the Department of Health said.
Meanwhile, Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast and Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Londonderry will be designated hub sites for orthopaedic procedures.
Lagan Valley Hospital
Waiting times in Northern Ireland for orthopaedic surgery are among the worst in the UK, with patients waiting up to four or five years for operations such as hip replacements.
This was further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw the halting of most elective orthopaedic procedures on grounds of patient safety and to concentrate resources on dealing with the virus.
Health Minister Robin Swann said his immediate priority is to get hospital services back up and running as quickly as possible, while also keeping patients and staff safe from coronavirus.
Health Minister Robin Swann explains why the hospitals were chosen
"That is why I am moving ahead with these interim decisions.
"Whilst I have stepped outside normal consultation arrangements on this occasion, the implementation phase will allow for the relevant trusts to carry out engagement and consultation with patients, trade unions and professional bodies," he said.
"I also give an assurance that any permanent changes to the way services are delivered will be subject to full public consultation and engagement."
Mr Swann added: "Establishing ring-fenced hubs for day-case and orthopaedic procedures is part of our long-term strategy for reducing waiting lists.
"It is also very important for infection control purposes. The approach is also in line with the direction of travel for our health service mapped out by the Bengoa and Delivering Together reports in 2016.
"The aim is to develop regional planning and regional waiting lists, so that patients can more easily and quickly access care across different trust boundaries."
Dr Tom Black, chairman of BMA's Northern Ireland Council, described the plans as a "step in the right direction".
"As BMA has said many times, we urgently need to reshape our health services, we cannot keep doing what we are doing and expect our waiting lists to get shorter," he said.
"There have been plenty of reviews and recommendations, and it is now time to action some of these suggestions.
"These proposals, which seek to move planned surgery to Lagan Valley and orthopaedic services to two centres in Belfast and Altnagelvin, are a step in the right direction."
He added: "It is recognised that by moving services to distinct, separate sites it means they are less likely to be impacted by emergency cases that would take precedence in terms of theatre time and staffing.
"And in light of Covid, there are additional infection control issues that are more easily managed by separating services."