Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith will meet unions later as industrial action by healthcare workers continues.
Health workers across Northern Ireland are staging industrial action in protest at pay and staffing levels, which they claim are “unsafe”.
A limited number of outpatient appointments will go ahead in hospitals across Belfast on Thursday.
That follows days of disruption during which 10,000 outpatient appointments and surgeries were cancelled.
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There was a reprieve in action on Wednesday when all outpatient services ran as normal.
Mr Smith is due to meet members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Unite and Unison on Thursday.
Speaking on Wednesday, he said he was looking forward to meeting them, adding that the situation in the health service was unacceptable.
‘Money on the table’
“I am extremely sorry this is affecting patients, families and workers,” he said.
“We need to come together now to try to resolve this to make sure the impacts don’t get worse – I will do whatever I can to move things forward.”
Health workers are protesting at pay and staffing levels, which they claim are “unsafe”.
The union Unison, which represents more than 6,500 registered nurses and 3,500 health care assistants, has called for “compromise and money on the table”.
Healthcare workers who are members of the Unite trade union are due to join strike action with members of other unions on 18 December.
‘Workers played as pawn’
Kevin McAdam of Unite said Mr Smith called him on Wednesday night to say he wanted to “sit down” with the unions to “understand the extent of the situation”.
Speaking ahead of Thursday’s meeting with the Northern Ireland secretary, Mr McAdam said Unite “would look at anything in terms of compromise if we were getting somewhere”.
He also criticised Stormont’s Department of Health for “saying they need political powers to resolve this”.
He added: “You almost feel like our health service workers are being played as a pawn here – that this is the threat to get people back into government – and that’s frightening.”
Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since January 2017 when the power-sharing parties – the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin – split after a bitter row.
Mr Smith said he would have more conversations with both the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the unions in the coming days.
“This area of health is a devolved matter so the decisions have to be taken by the NI Civil Service – they are working in difficult circumstances because Stormont’s not running.
“But I am working with them to see if we can find a way through.”
Health and Social Care, the health service operator in Northern Ireland, said patient care and safety was of “paramount concern”.
“We sincerely apologise for the distress and anxiety caused to all those patients, service users and family members who have been or may be affected by the industrial action,” it added.
Full details of the cancellations and advice for patients can be found on the Health and Social Care Board website.