Republic of Ireland news

Republic's hospital pressures 'likely to get worse' in weeks ahead as respiratory illnesses surge

The Republic's health minister Stephen Donnelly has said the current flu wave is 'very severe'. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire
Grainne Ni Aodha, PA

THE Republic's health minister has said it is likely that pressure on hospitals due to a surge in respiratory illnesses will get worse in the coming weeks.

It comes after the highest number of people waiting on trolleys was recorded on Tuesday, and as the Health Service Executive (HSE) advised people to consider attending their GP or minor injury units before an emergency department.

Speaking to reporters after visiting emergency departments at Dublin's Vincent's and Beaumont Hospital, health minister Stephen Donnelly said: "The advice I have from the chief medical officer is the modelling is difficult in terms of being accurate.

"However, what I can tell you is the HSE's view today, when I met them, was that this is likely to get worse, we are likely to see more pressure.

"They don't believe that the flu wave has peaked.

"What we want to see happen obviously as quickly as possible is that the flu wave peaks and then recedes because what I'm hearing repeatedly from the nurses, from the consultants in the hospitals, is more and more patients are coming in with the flu, and particularly those who are older or those who have other underlying conditions, it is making them quite sick."

He added: "What I'm hearing here today, and then in Vincent's today, is that the flu wave is very severe, it's hit earlier than it normally would.

"And so we have this perfect storm of RSV, flu, Covid obviously, as well as all of the normal pressures, that really that has absorbed the significant additional capacity that has been put into the system."

Emergency attendances have been fuelled by a rapid increase in flu, Covid-19 and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) cases, with nearly 1,500 people currently in hospital with those illnesses.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said 931 patients were counted as waiting on trolleys in the Republic's hospitals, the highest number without a hospital bed since the trade union began the count in 2006.

Of those, 767 were on trolleys in emergency departments while 164 were on trolleys elsewhere in hospitals.

In a statement on Tuesday, the HSE asked those who need medical care or assessment "to consider all options" before going to an A&E during what "is going to be the busiest ever period experienced by the health service".

It said: "While this surge of winter virus infections was predicted and planned for, the trends being seen are following the more pessimistic of predicted models and also appear to be increasing earlier than had been hoped.

"While some patients will regrettably experience long wait times in our emergency departments, urgent patients will always be prioritised for treatment and care."

Although RSV cases fell for several weeks, they are now also surging.

Figures show there were almost 700 people in hospital with Covid-19 on Tuesday, with 78 new cases confirmed in the previous 24 hours.

Damien McCallion, the HSE's chief operations officer, said the "unprecedented combination" of very high levels of respiratory illnesses has led to stress on hospitals.

The HSE expects the rise to continue for "a number of weeks", which will "seriously impact" hospitals.

Mr McCallion asked people with flu-like symptoms to check in the first instance, secondly for people to consult their pharmacist or GP, and thirdly for them to attend a minor injury unit before considering attending an emergency department.

"Those who believe they may be seriously ill and require emergency care should of course come to hospital, but we would urge others to consider seeking support from pharmacists, GPs, GP out-of-hours services and minor injury units," he said.

"These services have emergency responses in place for patients presenting with respiratory and other urgent health issues."

Mr Donnelly said the official advice to the government is that mask mandates are not required, but that they would keep the situation under review.

"I spoke to the chief medical officer in the last few hours on exactly that," Mr Donnelly said.

"So I don't anticipate any change coming in terms of the public health advice from the chief medical officer.

"The public health advice to Government, to me at the moment, it is not a move to mask mandates, but obviously we will keep the situation under review on a daily and on a weekly basis."

Chief medical officer Breda Smyth has urged people to wear masks on public transport and to stay at home if they have flu-like symptoms over the coming weeks in an effort to reduce transmission.

People are also encouraged to get a flu or Covid-19 booster vaccine if they are due one.

On Thursday, a second booster vaccine was made available to people aged 18 to 49, which can be booked through the HSE website.

Republic of Ireland news