HSE originally feared 40,000 could die from Covid-19, Dáil committee hears

More than 350 surplus ventilators have been sent to five hospitals in India

The HSE originally feared that up to 40,000 people in Ireland could die from Covid-19 and that up to 4,500 could need ventilators, it has told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The HSE said in a briefing note to the committee that early modelling estimates for intensive care unit and ventilator requirements “were ultimately overstated in the context of the successful implementation of the government’s public health measures”.

The committee will on Thursday hold a hearing on procurement and other spending by the HSE during the pandemic.

Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland
9,452,860 7,856,558

Hospital Report

Last month an internal audit report revealed that the health service had prepaid for 2,194 ventilators at a cost of €81 million from 10 different suppliers which were previously unknown to it. It said only 465 were delivered from China and that none had ever been put into clinical use in Ireland.


The HSE told the PAC that its procurement team had been tasked with sourcing a minimum of 1,900 ventilators in a matter of weeks in late March and early April last year.

“At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the extent of transmission, morbidity and mortality was unknown. Early modelling in respect of Ireland indicated that the level of mortality could potentially be in the order of 40,000 deaths and that the requirement for ventilation potentially in the order of 0.9 per 1,000 of population which equates to something in the order of 4,500 ventilators.

“The basis of the 1,900 was a best guesstimate available at the time of sanction request.”

HSE chief executive Paul Reid is expected to tell the committee that there had been 5,135 deaths due to Covid-19 as of September 8th.

The HSE said 365 of the ventilators which were delivered from China last year, but never used in Ireland, had now been sent to India.

Failure rate

The internal audit report last month said testing of 100 of an initial batch of 465 ventilators bought from China had shown a failure rate of 41 per cent. It said these test results as well as delays in receiving other machines led to the cancellation of other orders in April last year.

The HSE told The Irish Times that 365 ventilators had been delivered to India last May and distributed to five hospitals. It said all the ventilators were in working order. It said the remaining 100 ventilators from China were “in quarantine due to quality-related issues”.

The HSE briefing note to the PAC said €35.2 million was owed in respect of purchase orders that had been cancelled with suppliers. It said €11.6 million of this was “anticipated to be repaid imminently”.

The “HSE is working with its legal advisers to seek to recover as much value as is possible from the respective companies involved”.

Separately Mr Reid is expected to tell the committee on Thursday that the post-Christmas surge in Covid-19 cases was responsible for a €190 million deficit in the health service budget that had arisen by the end of June. However, he forecast that the HSE would achieve a substantial breakeven by the end of 2021 on its overall revenue budget.

“In summary terms, Covid-19 and the cost of responding to it has been significantly higher than planned for and this has, to a large extent, caused and been offset by regrettable delays in our capacity to progress with developments to permanently strengthen the health service.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times