Intense winter pressures on hospitals to continue for several weeks
The intense winter pressures being faced by hospitals are likely to continue for several more weeks, the Health Department has warned.
Funding to help tackle the ongoing difficulties has increased to £10m, the department said.
Health boss Richard Pengelly, the department's permanent secretary, warned however that radical action was needed to stop winter pressures intensifying every year.
He said: "We all owe a great debt of gratitude to staff for their work under intense pressure.
"Every practical and feasible step is being taken to support them.
"However, looking to the future it is clear that much more radical action is needed.
"We cannot consign our hospitals to a future where winter pressures simply intensify year on year, and the whole HSC (Health and Social Care) system becomes steadily more unsustainable."
Mr Pengelly was speaking following a briefing with a cross-party group of MLAs at Stormont about the ongoing winter pressures at hospitals, budgetary issues and the need for transformation of the health service.
MLAs were advised that 2018 is expected to be a very challenging year for the health system.
They were told by health officials winter pressures "remain intense" across hospitals and are not expected to ease for a number of weeks.
The health service is facing significant challenges over the next few years with projected health funding shortfalls of up to £171m in 2018-19 and between £265m and £340m in 2019-20.
"There are no easy or short-term solutions but we owe it to patients and our great staff to start making it better," said Mr Pengelly.
He added: "Transformation offers the only way forward on tackling winter pressures and other serious problems in our Health and Social Care system.
"We need to build up domiciliary care and other aspects of social care, enhance primary care to help people stay well and re-shape our hospital services."
Green Party Leader Steven Agnew said MLAs were told A&E numbers had increased by 5% from last year and 10% from the year before.
He also said more than 50% of people in hospital cannot be discharged until a suitable domiciliary care package is put in place.
Mr Agnew called for an investment in domiciliary care to allow patients to leave hospital as soon as they are ready.