Northern Ireland’s health minister has said he does not “know what the health service will look like in a week’s time”.
Robin Swann was addressing Stormont’s health committee and briefing MLAs on surge planning for the Covid-19 outbreak.
Mr Swann and the chief medical officer Michael McBride joined the meeting by Skype.
He was responding to a question from SDLP MLA Colin McGrath.
On Tuesday, NI’s chief medical officer briefed Stormont that there are many thousands of cases in Northern Ireland and that the virus’ is more widespread than statistics indicate.
As a result of the outbreak, NHS resources have been redirected to treating infected patients with many procedures and appointments cancelled.
The Royal College of Surgeons has advised members that some “emergencies will be treated in a different way” due to safety concerns.
It says that while some patients remain a priority, some others may be treated with antibiotics rather than surgery.
At Stormont on Thursday, Mr McGrath had asked Mr Swann for reassurance that any service reconfiguration was “temporary” and that the health service would be “able to return to its former format”.
The minister told him he was being “perfectly blunt” and that “I don’t know where we’ll be”.
He explained that surge plans were in place but said that the health service was down to a number of procedures and elective surgeries that he would never have envisaged as health minister.
“To give any sort of commitment now that we will return 100% to where we were two months ago – I can’t give it. I won’t give it, because I can’t stand over it,” Mr Swann added.