Health service facing large bill over lethal superbug threat

700 people infected with CPE in Ireland and ‘there may be another 700 out there’

Tallaght Hospital: an average of two or three testing positive per week. Photograph: David Sleator

Tallaght Hospital: an average of two or three testing positive per week. Photograph: David Sleator

 

The health services is facing a €40 million annual bill, including “considerable” litigation costs, due to an escalating threat from a potentially lethal superbug, HSE director general Tony O’Brien has warned.

The CPE bug represents a “current and future significant threat” to the health and safety of patients that could cost more than €20 million a year to tackle, Mr O’Brien stated in an internal memo, seen by The Irish Times.

“Litigation costs to the health service are likely to be considerable and would certainly exceed the estimated €20 million cost of controlling even a limited number of outbreaks,” he wrote.

A number of Irish hospitals, including Limerick and Tallaght, are currently battling outbreaks of carbapenemase-producing enterobacteriaceae (CPE). Up to 2 per cent of cases detected so far have been invasive, involving septicaemia, meningitis and deep abscesses. Up to 50 per cent of such cases can be fatal.

Less serious cases where patients are carrying the bacteria in their bowels are a significant threat in spreading CPE to vulnerable groups such as the elderly, according to the memo.

Mr O’Brien says expert opinion is that Ireland is still in a position to contain the epidemic but needs to respond urgently.

The significant-short term impact from infections will include prolonged hospitalisation and slower recovery for patients, and in some cases death, he warns. Hospital will be forced to cancel surgeries and will lose income as single rooms are used for isolating infected patients.

University Hospital Limerick has spent €4 million on dealing with 60 cases since 2015, while the estimated cost of a small outbreak in a long-term care facility in Co Donegal is €106,000, he said.