More patients and staff contracted Covid-19 in hospitals in the first four months of the year than during the whole of last year, new figures from the Health Service Executive (HSE) show.
In all, 3,782 people contracted the virus in hospitals between January 1st and May 1st of this year, compared with 3,280 between January 1st and December 31st, 2021.
St Vincent's University Hospital has had the highest number of hospital-acquired Covid-19 infections this year so far at 324, followed by Beaumont Hospital at 322.
Several hospitals have had no cases of hospital-acquired Covid-19 this year. They are: Children's Health Ireland at Temple Street, Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, National Orthopaedic Hospital Cappagh, Rotunda Hospital, Kilcreene Regional Orthopaedic Hospital and University Hospital Waterford.
Children’s hospitals in general had a much lower level of hospital-acquired infection, with six cases reported from the three Children’s Health Ireland hospitals.
However, that is still higher than the total number reported in 2021, during which time only two cases were recorded.
Representatives from the sector have attributed the increased rate of hospital-acquired Covid to the increasing number of people on trolleys, with overcrowding beginning to creep back up to pre-pandemic levels.
Anthony Staines, professor of health systems at DCU, said Omicron has put pressure on the health service.
“It is highly infectious. It spreads like nobody’s business. We have a hospital system which is just desperately overcrowded the whole time, it runs at 90 per cent or 100 per cent capacity the whole time,” he said.
“Infection control is much harder when you’ve a hospital system that’s stuffed to the gills as ours is.”
Albert Murphy, director of industrial relations at the Irish Nurses and Midwives' Organisation, said the union raised the alarm about the risks of hospital overcrowding on Covid transmission, and they have had to continue to make the same calls two years later.
“It’s not possible to effectively curb transmission of an airborne virus in a hospital when there are dozens of patients lining corridors on chairs and trolleys, so there’s no doubt that this is a factor,” he said.
“We saw overcrowding records reached in places this winter, and the numbers of patients on trolleys at the moment are astronomical for this time of year. If the current levels of overcrowding are a sign of what’s to come later in the year, very high numbers of staff and patients will inevitably be infected inside hospitals.”
Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients’ Association said while the transmissibility of Omicron is one contributing factor, it “doesn’t negate” the issue of overcrowding.
“If you have 100 patients waiting on a daily basis on and off, that’s massive overcrowding, and out of 100, you would expect somebody to have Covid. They’re hanging around the ED for hours, up to 24 or 48 hours some of them, it’s obviously a breeding ground for Covid.”
Speaking in the Dáil last month, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the HSE is "actively working" with hospitals and hospital groups to mitigate the situation of overcrowding.
Mr Donnelly said investment of €1.1 billion was provided in the budget to expand capacity, increases services and support reform.
“To date over 800 additional beds have been provided in acute hospitals since the start of 2020,” he added.