Cork, Letterkenny and Cavan hospitals exceed normal ICU capacity over Covid-19

HSE chief Paul Reid says public, not health workers are first line of defence against virus

 HSE chief Paul Reid  at the HSE’s weekly update in Dr Steevens’ Hospital  on Thursday. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

HSE chief Paul Reid at the HSE’s weekly update in Dr Steevens’ Hospital on Thursday. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland


Some hospitals are already using their intensive care (ICU) surge capacity to cope with the recent spikes in cases in Covid-19, the HSE chief executive Paul Reid has said.

Cork University Hospital, Letterkenny and Cavan hospitals exceeded their normal ICU capacity in recent days.

Covid-19 hospital admissions increased by 62 per cent from October 6th when there was 142 patients in hospital last week to 230 this week.

Mr Reid said there is now some impact in elective care and in other hospital services. Operations have been cancelled at Cavan General Hospital.

Cork University Hospital has put in extra bed capacity and is looking at private bed capacity.

Beaumont Hospital, one of the biggest in the State, is also under pressure as a result of Covid-19, he added.

The numbers of Covid-19 patients in hospital reduced from 230 on Tuesday night to 214 on Wednesday night and rose again to 235 on Thursday night, according to the HSE’s daily operations report. According to the Government Data Hub there were 238 people in hospital with Covid-19 on Friday morning. There number of people in ICU units across the State has stayed steady and was at 29 on Friday morning.

Mr Reid cautioned that the overall trend in numbers remained upwards.

He said all hospitals across the State are “under pressure but managing - the main concern is looking ahead to the coming weeks”.

He said only the public can turn the current trends in Covid-19 around and that they have sufficient information to do the right thing.

“Do not leave the frontline workers as our first line of defence. The public is the first line of defence,” he said at the weekly HSE briefing.

Cavan General Hospital had the largest number of Covid-19 patients in hospital with 32 on Wednesday morning .

HSE National Clinical Advisor Dr Colm Henry explained that the “surge” capacity in ICU is not ideal for treating the disease.

ICU death rates

He explained that death rates in ICU in Ireland were half of what it was internationally during the spring because the HSE did not generally use surge capacity in the first phase of the pandemic, instead using existing beds and specialist staff.

Approximately 21 per cent of patients admitted to ICU died in Ireland in comparison with rates of more than 40 per cent elsewhere.

Dr Henry also said 80 per cent of those testing positive for Covid-19 at present have either mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

In the beginning of the pandemic only those who were symptomatic were tested and a higher proportion of them were diagnosed with Covid-19.

Dr Henry said the strategy of mass screening healthcare workers and close contacts is picking up many more positive cases. Only a minority of those have any symptoms at all.

Currently approximately 10 per cent of all close contacts of a confirmed case test positive for the disease. The HSE is carrying out just over 100,000 tests a week at present with a positivity rate of around 6 per cent.

Dr Henry stressed that it was not the 80 per cent of Covid-19 positive cases that are of concern, but the 20 per cent of those who do develop symptoms.

“A significant proportion of people, particularly in the older age groups, have the capacity to become very ill, require hospitalisation or die. There is a sharp correlation in age with this,” he said.

Swabs and schools

Mr Reid said more than 103,250 swabs were carried out in the last week with a turnaround of 2.1 days and a positivity rate of 5.5 per cent.

Some 384 school facilities were identified as having a possible Covid-19 case in the last week last week.

The number of contact tracing calls went from 18,124 to 22,984 last week. The rise of 27 per cent is a “huge indication of the pressure on our contact tracing teams,” he said.

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