Hospitals across Greater Manchester are to pause some non-urgent surgery and appointments due to the 'rising impact' of Covid-19.
Locally, this will affect Tameside Hospital, Stepping Hill Hospital and The Royal Oldham Hospital with immediate effect.
Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said in a statement on Tuesday evening (4 January) that the decision was 'difficult' and the measure is 'temporary' with the aim of impacting the fewest number of patients.
It comes as the number of people in Greater Manchester being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 is rising sharply - having jumped from 126 on 19 December to 359 on 2 January, while more than one in five patients in some hospitals in the region have the virus.
But health bosses say the main reason is the 'high and rising level' of staff absence - with around 15 per cent off, either ill with Covid or isolating.
They also added that there are Covid-19 outbreaks in an increasing number of care homes, which is affecting how people are discharged from hospital, with bed modelling suggesting 'these challenges may get worse, not better, in the next week or two'.
Coronavirus infection rates in Greater Manchester are now higher than the national average, continuing to rise in all 10 of its boroughs. Almost 60,000 people tested positive in the week ending 31 December - a massive rise of 14,771 on the week before.
In Greater Manchester as a whole, the infection rate is now 2079.2 cases per 100,000 people. The average in England is 1625.1 cases per 100,000 population.
What it means for patients
Affected patients will be contacted. Those who are not contacted can assume their treatment is continuing as planned, and there is no need to contact the hospital or your GP practice for this information.
Cancer and urgent care - including cardiac surgery, vascular surgery and transplantation - will carry on as normal.
The Christie will continue to provide cancer care in a Covid-secure way, and Rochdale Infirmary will continue to provide cancer and other urgent surgery as a Covid-secure site for Greater Manchester.
Diagnostic services, including endoscopy, and the majority of out-patient services will continue 'wherever possible'.
A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, which is made up of local NHS organisations and councils, emergency services, the voluntary sector, Healthwatch and others including the mayor of Greater Manchester, said: "We understand how disappointing this will be for patients who have appointments or procedures affected, especially those who have already waited some time, and we know people will be worried."
Local hospitals are once again having to contend with a rising number of Covid-19 admissions. Image: Nigel Wood.
'A very difficult decision we haven't taken lightly'
Fiona Noden, co-chair of Greater Manchester Hospital Gold command and lead for elective care in the region, said: "This has been a very difficult decision and not one that we have taken lightly, but we’ve done it so we can keep people safe, can maintain the very best infection control measures, can make sure we deploy staff to where they’re needed most and can keep looking after people who need urgent and emergency care, including cancer treatment.
"We would urge anyone with health concerns to continue to come forward for help and treatment in the usual way, using their local emergency department only for serious illnesses or injuries.
"And we would also ask everyone to keep doing their bit to minimise the spread of the virus – please get vaccinated and boosted, wear a face covering in enclosed spaces, wash your hands more frequently and minimise your contact with people outside your immediate household."
Full list of affected hospitals
· Royal Bolton Hospital
· Fairfield General Hospital
· Manchester Royal Infirmary
· Manchester Royal Eye Hospital
· University Dental Hospital of Manchester
· St Mary’s Hospital
· North Manchester General Hospital
· The Royal Oldham Hospital
· Salford Royal Hospital
· Stepping Hill Hospital
· Tameside General Hospital
· Trafford General Hospital
· Royal Albert Edward Infirmary
· Wrightington Hospital
· Leigh Infirmary
· Wythenshawe Hospital
· Macclesfield District General Hospital
Patients waiting for hospital care are being directed to 'While you Wait' - an online resource which features resources on how to look after both physical and mental health while waiting for treatments and advice on managing conditions. You can access it here: www.whileyouwait.org.uk
Earlier on Tuesday, Boris Johnson said he hopes England can "ride out" the current wave of Covid-19 without further restrictions.
But, in a Downing Street press conference, the prime minister acknowledged that parts of the NHS would feel "temporarily overwhelmed" amid a surge of Omicron cases.