An extra £7m will be used to ease winter pressure on hospitals in Northern Ireland, it was revealed.

Additional demand on A&E units is linked to winter ailments, health minister Edwin Poots said. Doctors warned of an upsurge in the number of flu cases over Christmas.

Emergency departments and other short-term medical services will benefit after finance minister Sammy Wilson reallocated money from the Executive budget.

Mr Poots said: “I want to ensure that long waiting times are robustly addressed and the experience for patients improved. Improving waiting times in emergency departments throughout this winter period involves the whole system, not just A&E departments.

“This additional funding will also provide resources in other areas of the hospital and community health and social care system so that people can be treated and discharged home or to the community as soon as they are well enough.”

The GP consultation rate for flu decreased in the second week of this month, the Public Health Agency said. This followed a doubling in the rate over Christmas. A total of eight people have been admitted to hospital intensive care units with flu this year.

An extra £10m was allocated to the health department as part of the system of redistributing money which cannot be spent by other departments. There was £1 million for family and childcare services due to greater demand for foster homes, £1 million for increased demand for general dental services and £1 million for infection control.

The number of patients with a hospital-acquired infection in Northern Ireland has fallen, regulators said, but pseudomonas in taps at neonatal units in the Royal and Altnagelvin last winter was linked by an independent review to the deaths of four babies.

Mr Poots said care needed to be moved out of the hospital and into the community where appropriate.

Proposals set out in his consultation on Transforming Your Care include reducing the need for patients to attend emergency departments by providing appropriate support in the community, and ensuring people have alternative sources of help and advice on urgent health matters - for example their GP or pharmacist.

The minister said: “This will help to reduce pressure on emergency departments and will help to ensure that care is provided at the right time, in the right place, with the best outcome.”