Coronavirus: Doctors express concern over pressure on ICUs

Hospitals across the country forced to cancel surgeries due to increase in cases

The number of critically ill patients with coronavirus in ICUs rose to 90, an increase from 63 this time last month.  Photograph: Alan Betson

The number of critically ill patients with coronavirus in ICUs rose to 90, an increase from 63 this time last month. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Doctors have expressed concerns at the pressure the latest wave of Covid-19 infections is putting on intensive care units as hospitals are forced to cancel surgeries.

The number of critically ill patients with coronavirus in ICUs rose to 90, an increase from 63 this time last month, as doctors treat unvaccinated and significantly immunocompromised vaccinated patients.

The rising number of critical Covid-19 cases has forced University Hospital Galway to turn its cardiothoarcic ICU into a Covid ICU and, should there be an increase in cases this weekend, the hospital will have to turn the ICU into a critical care unit exclusively for Covid patients.

“We are hoping we won’t have to do that because it is very disruptive but I am concerned that there are projections out there that suggest we might get double the number of intensive care admissions nationally over the next couple of months,” said Prof John Bates, a consultant in intensive care medicine at the hospital.

The hospital was “under some pressure” and the lack of ICU beds had resulted in some elective surgeries in cardiac care and very high-risk surgeries being deferred.

“The whole hospital at this stage is short of beds anyway because a number of wards closed because of Covid outbreaks,” he said.

Enda O’Connor, ICU director at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, said about a quarter of the hospital’s ICU beds were occupied by Covid patients “so, not surprisingly, things are tight”.

“There is a high workload right across the system, from primary care and GPs to emergency departments and the ICU,” he said.

Prof Bates and Dr O’Connor said most Covid patients in their ICUs were unvaccinated.

“It is extremely rare to see fully vaccinated patients without significant immunosuppression coming into the intensive care unit,” said Prof Bates.

“The people who are getting the sickest Covid infections are patients who have not been vaccinated. If ever there has been a strong message to be vaccinated, that message is super strong now,” said Dr O’Connor.

Hospitals across the country have had to cancel surgeries due to the rise in Covid-19 cases. Children’s hospitals are reducing some scheduled surgeries and inpatient admissions in the coming weeks to cope with a sharp rise in the numbers presenting at emergency departments due to an early rise in seasonal respiratory illnesses and viruses.

Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan said scheduled day case procedures in orthopaedics were cancelled on Thursday. The Dublin Midlands Hospital Group said 103 procedures had to be deferred across inpatient, day surgery and endoscopy this week.

University Hospital Waterford, University Hospital Kerry and Mercy University Hospital have also postponed some surgical procedures.

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