HSE chief criticises ‘damaging’ commentary on nurses’ pay

No cases of the flu have been recorded so far this winter, health briefing also told

Pictured at Thursday’s media briefing are (left to right) Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer, HSE; Paul Reid, HSE chief executive; and Anne O’Connor, chief operations officer, HSE. Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

No flu cases have been recorded so far this winter, significantly easing the pressure on the health service during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Health Service Executive.

Officials credit the trend on an “additional protective effect” due to those most susceptible to Covid-19 - and also flu - taking measures to minimise their risk.

Another factor is the increased uptake for the flu vaccine, which has been administered to more than 1 million people this winter.

Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday afternoon to update on current health sector challenges, HSE chief executive Paul Reid also criticised "damaging" commentary around the issue of nurses' pay this week.

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He said comments made during the debate suggesting students nurses were being abused or exploited were “extremely unfair” to nurses, director of nursing and the wider health workforce.

This wasn’t his experience of the situation from engaging with staff, he said.

If anyone felt they were being abused or exploited, processes exist within training colleges and the HSE was dealing with such concerns, Mr Reid said.

On the issue of flu, Mr Reid said it hadn’t “impacted that much” on the health service so far but warned the situation was “fragile”.

Mr Reid urged everyone to reduce and limit their contacts over the holiday period in order to limit the spread of the virus and ease pressure on health services.

He expressed concern about a possible “confluence” of higher cases, increased contacts per case and increased demand on hospital services after Christmas.

The prospect of a vaccine means there is reason for much greater hope and optimism for 2021 compared to this year, he added.

HSE chief clinical officer Anne O’Connor told a briefing there was “no real evidence” of flu circulating at present and as a result community assessment hubs were “not that busy”.

The prevalence of other respiratory viruses, along with norovirus, is also “low to absent”, according to HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry.

He said 75 per cent of supplies of the children’s flu vaccine, which is being administered for the first time this year, have been distributed, and at least 25 per cent have been administered.

Consideration is being given to extending availability of the vaccine to children over 12 years of age, he confirmed.

Covid-19 infection rate

Ireland continues to have the lowest 14-day incidence of the coronavirus in the EU, at 74 cases per 100,000 people, according to Dr Henry.

The five-day moving average of cases at 286 a day is “relatively stable”, he said.

Dr Henry paid tribute to the public health efforts of 15 to 24-year-olds, among whom the incidence has dropped from 432 to 36. The collective change in behaviours in this group has effected a marked improvement in the figures, he said.

Mr Reid confirmed that from next week partners of pregnant women will be reclassified as “essential companions” so they can also attend fetal anomaly scans. This follows an online campaign to have existing restrictions on partners accompanying the women in maternity hospitals eased.

Almost 300 staff in five hospitals with large outbreaks of Covid-19 - Letterkenny, Tallaght, Kilkenny, Naas, Waterford and Limerick - are currently off work due to infection or being contacts, the briefing heard.

Outpatients and inpatient waiting lists are starting to fall, Ms O’Connor said, after peaking early in the year.

The number of delayed transfers of care, where hospital patients are not discharged though well, is at an all-time low of 373, she added.

There is no evidence that level of suicide and self-harm are any higher than usual, Dr Philip Dodd, clinical lead at the National Office of Suicide Prevention told the briefing.

He said level of self-hard were lower in March and April at the height of the pandemic, subsequently increase and are not returning to more usual levels.

Limited provision information on deaths recorded as suicides does not show any increase this year, he said.

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital continues to decline, with 203 there today. ICU numbers increased slightly to 37.

Hospital admissions are down 7 per cent on last year and trolley numbers are down 60 per cent.

Mr Reid said the health service was much stronger going into this winter than in previous one, thanks to new investments. He urged people to “be realistic” and exercise personal judgement in terms of what was “sensible and possible” over Christmas.

He said patients flow through hospitals had been improved, home help waiting lists have been cut from 7,500 to 2,400 and there was better working with community services.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.