‘Significant pressure’ on hospitals with 287 patients in ICU – HSE director

Director of acute services says 321 ICU beds open with surge capacity limit of up to 350

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced that based on current projections 700,000 people in the State will have received a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of March. Video: Oireachtas TV


There are now 287 Covid-19 patients in intensive care across the country, according to Liam Woods, director of acute services at the Health Service Executive (HSE).

On Thursday, Mr Woods said there were 321 intensive care unit (ICU) beds open in the republic, with a surge capacity limit of up to 350. However, he warned that “the system is under significant pressure”.

Mr Woods said there will be increased pressure in the coming days because of the lag between cases being identified and the stage at which some people require hospitalisation. This has had a huge impact on hospitals and staff as the health service is running at a shortage of 10 per cent of staff at present, he added.

The lag will mean even more numbers this weekend, he told RTÉ radio’s News at One.

Mr Woods said staff were “very stressed” and the situation was “very stressful.”

There had been a fall-off in the numbers attending emergency departments and Mr Woods urged anyone suffering symptoms that could be a stroke or a heart attack to go to emergency department.

‘Emergency situation’

Hospitals across the State have been ordered to treat the current Covid-19 surge as an “emergency situation” by suspending all non-urgent work and escalating the discharge of patients “with immediate effect”.

With ICU capacity expected to be used up by the weekend, the HSE has told hospitals to minimise patients’ length of stay and facilitate their discharge “to the fullest extent”, as well as using the private sector to maximise capacity.

A further 63 deaths linked to Covid-19, the second highest total on any day during the pandemic, and 3,569 confirmed cases of the disease were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Wednesday.

A total of 159,144 cases have now been confirmed in the State since the pandemic began, and 2,460 deaths have been recorded.

The Government expects that at least four million people in the State will be vaccinated against Covid -19 by the end of September.

Updated projections sent by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to TDs on Wednesday night say although 700,000 people will be vaccinated by the end of March, the State now expects to receive some 3.7 million doses between April and the end of June and a further 3.8 million between July and the end of September. This would mean that at least four million people could be vaccinated by that time.

It is expected, however, that most adults will be vaccinated by the end of the summer once additional vaccines are approved by the European Medicines Agency in the coming weeks.

Despite a record numbers of patients in ICU, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said “some early signs of progress” were being seen, with daily case numbers and positivity rates falling. However, he added there was “a long, long way to go”.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation called on the Government to fully nationalise capacity in private hospitals.

A new agreement to allow the HSE to take over up to 30 per cent of capacity in private hospitals is expected to cost €37.5 million per month based on initial estimates, Ministers have been told by the Department of Health.

Meanwhile, all GPs and their staff will be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of February under an agreement between medical organisations and the HSE.