Twenty-four patients have died from flu this season, says HSE

More than 1,000 hospitalised with pressure on facilities set to continue for several weeks

Dr Kevin Kelleher of the HSE said this was the fifth worst flu season since 2000. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Dr Kevin Kelleher of the HSE said this was the fifth worst flu season since 2000. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

Twenty-four patients have died directly as a result of the flu this season, the Health Service Executive has confirmed.

Those who have died in recent weeks include young children, adults, and patients over 65 years of age.

HSE officials and public health experts estimated the “peak” of the flu season had been reached but the intense pressure facing hospitals due to the current flu season was set to continue for another four to five weeks.

Since the start of the flu season 1,019 people have been hospitalised with a strain of the virus, with 52 patients requiring treatment in critical care units, according to latest HSE figures up to last week.

The number of flu outbreaks has increased, with 61 recorded up to the end of last week. Just one flu outbreak was recorded in a school as children returned to school following the Christmas break. The majority of outbreaks were in residential care settings, such as nursing homes, and 10 outbreaks were recorded in acute hospitals.

However, the impact of the flu on the health service lags behind the rate of infection among the general public, so the significant pressure on hospitals will continue for several weeks, officials warned.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, assistant national director of public and child health with the HSE, said “the reality is there is another four to five weeks of activity before we get below the base level” of flu rates.

Dr Kelleher, speaking at a briefing to the media on Thursday, said this was the fifth worst flu season since 2000.

Vacant beds

Dr Kelleher said due to requirements to place patients with the flu away from other patients, some hospital beds were being left vacant.

“If you have two people in a room with flu there may be four beds, nobody else can go in there . . . It is a better quality of care, but it has a perverse effect on the number of beds available,” he said.

On Thursday, 547 patients were waiting in emergency departments across the country, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. The figure which included 13 children (nine in Crumlin and four in Temple Street) has dropped from the record highs reported at the start of January, when 677 patients were waiting in emergency departments.

Damien McCallion, the national director of the HSE’s winter initiative said the number of people attending acute hospitals was slightly up compared with this time last year.

Mr McCallion said several step down and nursing home facilities were no longer taking new patients due to flu outbreaks, which was putting pressure on acute hospitals. He said last week more than 100 public patients had been placed in private hospital beds, to try to alleviate pressure.

The current strain on acute hospitals has also meant in most non-urgent cases elective surgery is not being scheduled, which will have a knock-on effect for surgery waiting lists.

Dr Ciara Martin, a paediatric consultant at Tallaght Hospital’s emergency department, said the longest a child had been waiting in the emergency department on Thursday was nine hours.

Delays in admitting children who presented with the flu were due to shortages of appropriate isolation rooms, she said. “Sometimes we do need to keep children in a cubicle in the emergency department until the best space becomes available for them,” she said.