A shortage of hospital beds and "unprecedented" ambulance delays has led to the largest health organisation in Wales declaring an internal critical incident.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which is responsible for healthcare services to more than 700,000 people across North Wales, said it was struggling with demand caused by a combination of winter viruses, cold weather injuries, and parents seeking help due to concerns about strep A.
Long Waits in A&E
In a statement issued on its website on Monday morning, the health board reported that patients faced "extremely long waits", particularly at its hospital emergency departments, and that industrial action by members of the Royal College of Nursing on Tuesday and by Wales Ambulance Service members on Wednesday would "limit our ability to respond even further".
Health service managers said that all but the most urgent hospital procedures had been postponed and that the Board was working on plans for how it would run its critical services over the next few days. It was holding talks with unions to ensure there were sufficient appropriately qualified staff on hand where the failure to provide services could endanger life. "Staff working in these services will be able to strike only if there is sufficient cover available to ensure patient safety," the statement said.
The Board said it was also working with local authorities to help medically fit patients be discharged from hospitals.
Emergency departments will remain open in the six counties of North Wales for patients to be seen in order of clinical priority, but the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board said it regretted that long waits were inevitable. It urged the public to check the NHS 111 Wales website for advice on the most appropriate service to use.
Health managers said: "This is an exceptionally challenging time for colleagues across our health services and we are hugely grateful for the continued efforts being made in such difficult circumstances."
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which has a budget of £1.87 billion and a workforce of 19,000 provides health services across Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, and Wrexham.