Hospitals across State ordered to treat Covid-19 surge as ‘emergency situation’

HSE forecasts more than 2,000 coronavirus patients will require hospitalisation by next Monday

Covid Emergency Department at St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Covid Emergency Department at St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times


Hospitals across the State have been ordered to treat the current Covid-19 surge as an “emergency situation” by suspending all non-urgent work and escalating the discharge of patients “with immediate effect”.

With ICU capacity expected to be used up by the weekend, the HSE has told hospitals to minimise patients’ length of stay and facilitate their discharge “to the fullest extent”, as well as using the private sector to maximise capacity.

In a letter to senior managers, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry says hospitals are “under pressure” due to the high number of Covid-19 patients and associated high staff absenteeism.

Urging staff not just to focus on the peak of this surge, he says it is important to understand that “because of the volume of cases and the longer-than-average times patients spend in hospital there will be a slow downturn in the numbers in hospital” afterwards.

A further 63 deaths of Covid-19 patients were reported on Wednesday night, the highest daily total since April. The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) also reported 3,569 confirmed cases.

By next Monday more than 2,000 Covid-19 patients will require hospitalisation, Dr Henry forecasts, compared to Wednesday’s figure of 1,770. More than 220 of these patients will require critical care, easily using up remaining capacity in the system.

While a vaccine is being rolled out, Dr Henry says “this is not a solution that in the short term will address this surge”.

New projections given to TDs by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly suggested at least four million people could be vaccinated by the end of September, while sources said all adults were likely to be offered a vaccine by the end of the summer.

Positivity rates

Despite a record 172 patients in ICU on Wednesday , chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said “some early signs of progress” were being seen, with daily case numbers and positivity rates falling. However, he added there was “a long, long way to go”.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation called on the Government to fully nationalise capacity in private hospitals.

A new agreement to allow the HSE to take over up to 30 per cent of capacity in private hospitals is expected to cost €37.5 million per month based on initial estimates, Ministers have been told by the Department of Health.

Meanwhile, all GPs and their staff will be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of February under an agreement between medical organisations and the HSE.

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