Covid-19 burden on hospitals increased ‘considerably’ in recent weeks, Holohan says

No indication for need to change public health advice, outgoing chief medical officer’s update states

Signage for the accident and emergency (A&E) department at Causeway Hospital in Northern Ireland. Picture date: Monday January 18, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story ULSTER Coronavirus Ambulance. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The burden of Covid-19 on acute hospitals has increased “considerably” over recent weeks, reducing capacity to help patients with other ailments or in need of emergency treatment, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has been told.

In his final update on the pandemic before he left the role last Friday, the then chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan told Mr Donnelly the acute hospital system “remains under considerable pressure” due to the disease.

The number of Covid patients in hospitals had risen from 167 on May 28th to 812 on July 1st, when the update to the Minister was written. That figure has since risen further, standing at 903 as of Thursday morning.

“If the recent rising trend in hospitalised cases continues, we are likely to see increased pressure on the hospital system over the coming weeks. This will further reduce hospital capacity to admit patients for scheduled and unscheduled care,” Dr Holohan wrote.

Just over half (52 per cent) were in hospital to be treated for Covid-19 disease (52 per cent), with the remainder categorised as asymptomatic infectious cases, the letter added.

While Covid-related mortality has remained “relatively stable”, there has been “a recent increase in the number of notified outbreaks in some vulnerable settings which continues to be monitored”, Dr Holohan said, also noting that there can be a lag in the reporting of deaths.

There were 37 deaths associated with virus in the week up to July 6th, according to the Department of Health.

Between June 19th and June 25th, a total of 96 Covid-19 outbreaks were notified to public health officials. Of those, 23 were in nursing homes and six were in community hospital or long-stay units, with the number of cases per outbreak ranging from two to 20.

Dr Holohan said that, in summary, a number of epidemiological indicators have deteriorated in recent weeks.

However, despite the deteriorating epidemiological conditions, he said “there is no indication for any change in the current public health advice”.

It emerged on Thursday that Dr Holohan has been appointed to an adjunct professor position at University College Dublin. In a post on Twitter, he said he was “delighted” to be appointed to the position, which he said would be on a “pro bono basis”. He added that he had “great plans to bring value to the role and to find other interesting things to do”.

After announcing his intention to leave the role of chief medical officer earlier this year, a position in Trinity College Dublin was to be created for him as professor of public health strategy and leadership. The proposed appointment caused significant political controversy after it emerged his €187,000-a-year salary would be paid by the Department of Health on an open-ended secondment arrangement. Dr Holohan later decided against proceeding with the move.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times