Covid-19 spread threatens ‘major impact’ on hospital system, says Reid

Health officials now as concerned as they had been at start of pandemic, says HSE chief

The situation was ‘extremely volatile’ at present and could deteriorate very quickly, HSE chief Paul Reid told a press briefing on Wednesday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The situation was ‘extremely volatile’ at present and could deteriorate very quickly, HSE chief Paul Reid told a press briefing on Wednesday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins


The country is facing “very serious and dangerous” levels of Covid-19 spread, which threatens to have a “major impact” on the hospital system, the head of the Health Service Executive (HSE) has said.

Paul Reid, HSE chief executive, said health officials were now as concerned as they had been at the start of the pandemic in March.

There was a fear increased hospitalisations from Covid-19 would coincide with the traditionally busy period in hospitals in early January, he said.

The situation was “extremely volatile” at present and could deteriorate very quickly, as happened in Northern Ireland where hospitals became “overwhelmed” in a number of days, Mr Reid told a HSE press briefing on Wednesday.

Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer, said recent days had seen “extraordinary growth in infection beyond what our extreme versions of modelling would have predicted.”

“We are deteriorating at a more rapid pace, in seven days, than any other country in Europe,” he said. The rate at which the virus was spreading had reached a “frightening level,” he said.

“The impact of this, if this carries on its current trajectory, will be felt right across the healthcare system . . . We know the destructive effect Covid-19 has, in particular in healthcare settings, including acute hospitals,” Dr Henry said.

‘Worst case scenario’

If the country began to see close to 2,000 new cases of Covid-19 a day, as predicted by the New Year, Mr Reid warned that the healthcare system would come under intense strain.

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
263 64

“We would start to see very significant hospitalisations, we expect, very significant ICU increases, and also major pressure on our testing and tracing capacity,” he said.

There would normally be a rough two-week lag between large numbers of confirmed cases, and increased admissions into hospitals, Mr Reid said.

Health officials are concerned over a possible “worst case scenario” which could see significant admissions of Covid-19 patients in early January, a time when the hospital system traditionally comes under pressure each year.

“It is at a point where the whole health system has the potential to get overwhelmed, which we have seen happen not too far away in Northern Ireland,” Mr Reid said.

Given higher rates of the virus now within the community, and expected increased socialising between households over Christmas, there was a “high risk” of healthcare workers contracting Covid-19 outside of work, Mr Reid said.

This would mean hospitals would be facing staffing pressures at the same time as a surge in demand on services in early January, he said.

Mr Reid said he was confident the State could reach agreement for extra capacity with private hospitals again if required. “In terms of the massive surge that we may have, there is still discussions going on between department officials, the HSE, and the private hospital groups,” he said.

Extra supports

Anne O’Connor, HSE chief operations officer, said extra supports were being provided to 136 long-term residential care facilities, such as nursing homes.

Eighteen facilities were facing category amber pressures dealing with outbreaks, under the HSE’s traffic light warning system, she said.

Seven residential care homes were in the red category, “where there is a significant risk to the continued operation of the centre,” Ms O’Connor said.

The first delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will see 9,750 doses arrive in Ireland on St Stephen’s Day, with a further 31,000 doses received shortly afterwards, Mr Reid said.

The State expects to receive around 40,000 doses of the vaccine each week in January and February, with the initial rollout focused on vaccinating vulnerable residents in nursing homes and some healthcare staff, he said.

Nurses, meanwhile, have been told that a small number of staff in hospitals may receive the Covid vaccine before the end of December .

In a bulleting to members on Wednesday the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said: “Healthcare workers will be amongst the first to receive the vaccine. Rollout in long-term care facilities (public and private) is likely to take place in January and February, including staff and patients. A small batch of vaccines may also be used in some acute hospitals by the end of this year.”

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