Covid-19: Number of people needing kidney dialysis has ‘increased dramatically’

Tallaght Hospital has opened a new renal unit, more than doubling dialysis capacity

Annamma Samuel, CNM2 home therapies, and consultant nephrologist Prof George Mellotte in the  reception area of the new Vartry renal unit at TUH

Annamma Samuel, CNM2 home therapies, and consultant nephrologist Prof George Mellotte in the reception area of the new Vartry renal unit at TUH


The number of people needing kidney dialysis has “increased dramatically” this year due to a reduction in transplants and increased numbers in intensive care, the HSE national lead for kidney medicine has said.

Prof George Mellotte, who is also a consultant nephrologist, was speaking following the opening of Tallaght University Hospital’s (TUH) new Vartry renal unit, which will more than double its dialysis capacity.

Dialysis is a medical treatment that filters and purifies blood, when kidneys are no longer functioning properly.

Prof Mellotte said for the past decade, the number of patients requiring dialysis has steadily increased by about 3 per cent per year, due to an ageing population with complex health needs.

Further rise

However, he said the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a further rise in demand for the treatment, with about a 6 per cent increase.

“Normally we do about 200 transplants per year, but I’d say we would be lucky to get to 100, so those extra people will have to be treated by dialysis. So we will have extra people on it,” he told The Irish Times.

“Secondly, a lot of people were sick enough to require ICU care. Of those people, about a third ended up requiring dialysis in the intensive care unit. Most, but not all, recovered kidney function, some of them will end up requiring permanent dialysis.”

As a result, Tallaght hospital had to facilitate late night dialysis in order to meet the growing demand.

This is why Prof Mellotte believes the new unit at TUH is so important. Built over two floors, it has 28 haemodialysis treatment bays, six single haemodialysis rooms for immunocompromised or acutely ill patients, four home-dialysis training rooms and, for the first time in Ireland, four self-care haemodialysis bays, where patients can administer the treatment themselves.

“It enhances the capacity of Tallaght hospital to provide isolation to all these patients, it protects our outpatients better, all patients are receiving their dialysis at least two metres away from everyone else, they can social distance,” he said.

“We didn’t predict Covid-19 but it’s actually very fortunate that we have this extra isolation space for these patients.”

‘Incredible teamwork’

Lucy Nugent, chief executive of TUH, said the hospital is grateful the unit could be opened on time, despite the impact of Covid-19 on the health service.

“I have to acknowledge particular thanks to the incredible teamwork by our nursing, medical and facilities staff in getting the unit open at a time when the hospital is particularly busy and continuing to provide dialysis treatment in the old renal unit,” she said.

“It has been a herculean task and is testament to the calibre of the team we have here at TUH, despite the challenges we have faced this year staff have remained focused and work together to prove the best possible care to the patients under our care.”