Upgraded safety standards are urgently needed in Irish hospitals where Covid-19 infection rates are "out of control" and "directly harming frontline staff", the head of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has warned.
Phil Ní Sheaghdha, INMO general secretary, has called on the HSE to introduce urgent upgrades to safety measures for hospital staff including a national requirement that high-standard FFP2 masks be used in all healthcare settings, not just basic surgical masks.
The INMO said the distance between beds must also be increased from one metre to two and that regular testing for all staff in healthcare settings should be carried out on a rolling basis. Safety reviews are also needed in each hospital, in particular to reduce footfall and improve decontamination practices, said the group.
More than 5,400 healthcare workers contracted Covid-19 in the fortnight leading up to January 19th including 1,957 who picked up the virus in a healthcare setting, said the INMO.
“We should not have to campaign for basic safety measures in our hospitals, yet we are seeing precious little progress from the HSE,” said Ms Ní Sheaghdha. “Hospital infection rates are out of control. This is directly harming frontline staff and depleting rosters. The HSE need to take control and issue strong national guidance to increase safety standards.
“Our members are furious that while many wait to get even their first vaccine, HSE policy is leaving them exposed to the virus.”
‘Inescapable and uncomfortable’
Responding to the INMO calls, HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the HSE had “lowered the bar” for the use of high-standard FFP2 masks and that they were now available to any healthcare staff who requests them.
He added that the distance between beds was in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. "It is an inescapable and uncomfortable fact that where there are high levels of uncontrolled, community transmission, despite our best measures, it is impossible to keep this virus out of hospital settings," he said.
Dr Henry acknowledged infection levels were “out of control” but that this was happening everywhere, not just in hospitals. He added that the most recent figures showed there were 450 cases of healthcare-acquired Covid-19 infections in one week.
“Even though we are seeing falling cases, we are still seeing a five-day average of 2,500 cases per day, ten times what it was in the beginning of December,” he told RTÉ’s Radio One on Saturday show.
“There’s a great deal of variation, and much of it is dependent on outbreaks within hospital settings. Where we have a greater number of outbreaks, and more serious outbreaks, we will see greater numbers of secondary transmission.”
On Saturday there were 1,893 people were being treated in the Republic’s hospitals for Covid-19, with 218 people seriously ill in ICU.
There are growing concerns about capacity in ICU units this weekend with staff in Cork University Hospital asked to volunteer for shifts to provide critical care on Friday night as the hospital was hit by staff absences due to Covid-19.
The HSE said patients were being transferred from the west of the country to ICU units in Dublin hospitals, and sources said that there were likely to be more transfers this weekend and into next week.