Officials warn of ‘spike’ in respiratory illness among children as flu season arrives

HSE denies patients leaving without treatment as pressure on hospitals grows

This winter’s flu season has already begun, the HSE believes, with almost 30 cases reported in the past week alone.

Separately, a spike in RSV (or respiratory syncytial virus) cases, which particularly affect the young, has put increasing pressures on children’s hospitals, leading to the cancellation of an unspecified number of elective procedures, officials say.

Overcrowding has worsened earlier in the winter than last year, with trolley numbers up 40 per cent in the past week.

Officials, speaking at a briefing on the HSE’s winter plan on Thursday, denied there was any rise in patients at hospital emergency departments leaving in frustration after long waits.


Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell said she spent eight hours with one of her children in the emergency department of Crumlin children's hospital at the weekend before "giving up" and returning home. "It is not acceptable and I was embarrassed as a TD," Ms O'Connell told the Oireachtas health committee on Wednesday.

However, Robert Morton, a national director at the HSE, said "do not waits" - patients who leave before being seen or admitted - stood at 6.8 per cent, slightly above the 5 per cent target.

In Tallaght children's hospital, 2 per cent of attendees were "do not waits", according to Dr Ciara Martin, paediatric lead at Children's Hospital Ireland.

Dr Martin said the “capacity issues” seen in the three Dublin children’s hospitals over the past week demonstrated the need for investment in the new national children’s hospital. A 20 per cent rise in attendances has forced the cancellation of elective work and the reopening of extra wards, she said.

Attendances at the new urgent care centre in Blanchardstown have almost doubled, she added.

While this week’s figures have yet to be collated, the HSE believes the number of flu cases has already passed the threshold used to gauge whether the virus is in circulation in the community. There were 29 cases reported last week, and 70 in the winter to date, with 15-64 year-olds most affected. A handful of patients have been put in intensive care but there have been no deaths so far.

Of nine respiratory outbreaks reported, two have been confirmed as flu, according to HSE assistant national director Dr Kevin Kelleher.

Despite anecdotal reports of a rise in the norovirus, or winter vomiting bug, Dr Kelleher said it was not a significant problem at present, with 40 cases reported.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

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