Non-time critical orthopaedic surgery is being postponed in Belfast hospitals, as the health service deals with a rise in Covid-19 admissions.
The medical director of the Belfast Trust said that 60% of Covid patients admitted to hospitals had not been vaccinated.
All patients affected by the surgeries being postponed will be notified by phone and will be offered a rescheduled date.
The trust, which is caring for 71 Covid-19 inpatients, also said “an unprecedented number” of patients are attending emergency departments.
The trust said the decision would relieve some pressure on bed capacity and make it possible to maintain safe staffing levels across its hospitals.
Trust medical director Chris Hagan said: “We would like to apologise to those patients and families affected by this decision, it is not one we wanted to make and we appreciate the anxiety it will cause.
“However, this is the only way we can ensure safe staffing levels for patients who are most acutely ill, whilst allowing regional complex surgery to continue at Belfast City Hospital.
“In addition we have identified that 60% of patients admitted with Covid-19 symptoms are not vaccinated. It is therefore vital that everyone eligible receives the vaccination as soon as possible by using the booking system or calling into one of the many drop-in centres this weekend.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Health has said that the interim vaccine certification system scheme in Northern Ireland is under “extreme pressure” and users are asked to be patient.
The temporary “vaccine passport” scheme allows people to travel abroad until a full CCS (Covid Certification Service) is established.
A department spokesperson said: “We are aware that some users are experiencing difficulties and we are working at pace to find a resolution to these issues.
“We are reacting to changing entry requirements being imposed by countries which may impact travellers.
“The system is currently transitioning to the planned CCS and the new app will launch shortly.
“Those who are not travelling within the next few days should please avoid blocking the helpline, for those with more pressing needs. We would also remind the public that staff working on the helpline are doing their best to help them. While frustration at delays is understandable, appropriate courtesy is more likely to be productive.”
A further 1,337 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said.
One further death of a patient who had previously tested positive for the virus has been notified.
On Friday morning there were 163 Covid-19 positive patients in hospital, with 16 in intensive care.
In total 2,195,815 vaccines have been administered.