Number of flu deaths hits 22 but outbreak ‘may have peaked’

Hospital attendance among over 75-year-olds has been up almost 20%

Some 1,373 people have been hospitalised so far this year due to flu, with 45 admitted to intensive care. File image: Alan Betson

Some 1,373 people have been hospitalised so far this year due to flu, with 45 admitted to intensive care. File image: Alan Betson

 

The current flu outbreak may have peaked but is expected to continue at very high levels for another five weeks, according to the Health Service Executive.

The number of flu cases reported in the last week of the year declined slightly on the previous week but remains above the high intensity threshold, according to the latest HSE figures.

Flu levels immediately before Christmas were the highest they have been in recent years, health officials said at a briefing attended by Minister for Health Simon Harris on Thursday.

So far this winter, the outbreak has been responsible for 22 deaths, 17 of them among over-65s. Some 1,373 people have been hospitalised, with 45 admitted to intensive care. The worst affected groups are under 5s and over 65s.

The number of patients attending hospital and being admitted dropped as usual over Christmas compared to the previous week, but were also down on the previous Christmas. However, among over 75-year-olds, attendances were up almost 20 per cent on last year, while admissions increased by over 13 per cent.

The flu outbreak has put great strain on hospitals, despite faster throughput of patients. The HSE counted 404 patients on trolleys on Thursday morning, up 58 per cent on the same day in 2019. Just over half of these patients required isolation.

Mr Harris defended the performance of the health service in the face of assertions by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation that the figures were “going in the wrong direction”.

While 2019 had been “a very challenging year” in hospital emergency departments, it was wrong to focus on “just one metric” such as trolleys, he said. The health service was getting “busier and busier every year”, he pointed out, having seen an additional 30,000 people last year compared to 2018.

There had also been significant reductions in the number of patients waiting for hospital operations while the number of patients waiting for home care packages at the moment was the lowest “in a very long period of time”.

By next Monday, 51 additional beds will be opened, with 199 beds due to open by the end of this month, he added.

HSE officials said they expected the flu outbreak would continue for another five weeks though it will be next week before it can be confirmed that the number of cases has peaked.