SCOTLAND’s worst flu crisis for years has contributed to the cancellation of more than 60 surgical operations at Raigmore Hospital this week.
An unprecedented scale of patient admissions also prompted a suspension of most visits until at least the end of the week.
Emergency operations have been prioritised and some patients transferred to other Highland hospitals.
As of Wednesday this week 30 patients were being treated for flu at Raigmore and the outbreak also meant the Royal Northern Infirmary in Inverness remained closed, although its day hospital was open.
It is thought the number of cases may increase later this month.
Ken McDonald, Raigmore’s associate medical director, confirmed that some elective surgery was being postponed.
"We’ve seen an increase in the number of cases of flu which is placing us under significant pressure," he said.
"All activity scheduled to take place in the hospital will be reviewed by a small group of senior clinicians in order to prioritise emergency and urgent cases.
"These are not decisions we take lightly but we need to manage these pressures to ensure we’re able to provide care safely."
He acknowledged the disruption it would cause for some patients and apologised for postponements.
NHS Highland urged the public to "play their part" with a suspension of all visiting imposed on Monday at Raigmore unless "under special circumstances and with the agreement of the nurse in charge".
Scotland’s health secretary Shona Robison praised the "sheer hard work of staff throughout this busy winter".
The minister claimed Scotland’s accident and emergency departments had outperformed those elsewhere in the UK, and that almost 80 per cent of patients attending A&E were "admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour target".
The Scottish Ambulance Service reported an almost 40 per cent increase in the number of calls on Hogmanay alone.
NHS 24 received more than 45,000 calls in the four days over Christmas, which was almost double the number for the same period last year.
Flu rates in Scotland doubled in December with the most recent figures from Health Protection Scotland showing around 46 in every 100,000 people suffering from the virus, compared with 22 in every 100,000 for the same spell in 2016.
The NHS is encouraging all eligible groups to get the flu vaccine.
Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie praised the hard work of health staff and called for more investment to prevent slips and falls.
He said: "Too often we see Scottish ministers trying to distract from the situation by pointing to the dismantling of the NHS by the Tories in England when we should remain focused on meeting our own aspirations for health and social care services.
"We need properly paid staff to cope with emergency hospital admissions and we need care packages at home to free up space in our hospitals."