Covid: HSE warns of threat to waiting lists as hospitals under increased pressure

Targets set likely to be endangered as elective care cancelled, says Dr Colm Henry

The Health Service Executive’s chief clinical officer has said there will be “clear implications” for the State’s hospital waiting list plan arising from the surge of Covid infection.

Dr Colm Henry told The Irish Times that targets set under the waiting list initiative are likely to be endangered by the current surge, which is forcing the cancellation of elective care across the hospital system.

His comments came as a further 23,125 Covid-19 cases were reported by the Department of Health on Thursday, including 14,215 who registered a positive antigen test with the HSE.

There were 1,425 patients with Covid-19 in hospital. Of those, 53 patients were intensive care units, two fewer than on Wednesday.

The number of patients in hospital with Covid is combining with high levels of absenteeism due to infection, with more than 5,000 healthcare staff now off, and significant numbers of people turning up requiring treatment in emergency rooms.

“We have a waiting list initiative, we have targets alongside that – certainly the current pressures on unscheduled care between presentations [in hospitals] and Covid will have clear implications for our plan for waiting lists,” Dr Henry said.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, meanwhile, said he has discussed the rise in cases with chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan in recent days but said there is no change in the Government’s advice on Covid-19. The current wave does not require further restrictions, he said, but he advised that people wear masks in “crowded situations”.

Mr Martin said the CMO was “very clear that the advice stays. He hasn’t withdrawn advice in terms of the desirability of wearing masks in crowded situations.”

HSE chief executive Paul Reid separately told hospitals to prioritise urgent Covid care for a period of two weeks.

In a letter sent to chief executives of hospital groups, Mr Reid said there was now a need for a 14-day period of “prioritisation of unscheduled Covid-19 care and urgent time-sensitive work”.

It is the third time in the past six months that the health service has issued a system-wide diktat to downgrade the priority given to non-Covid care – on each previous occasion, this occurred during a Covid wave that saw the introduction of wider societal restrictions.

“The increase in Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks has yet again placed our healthcare systems under great pressure, both from the continued impact of cases being hospitalised and from the growing staff shortages related to Covid-19 infections,” he wrote.

He pointed to an increase of 7 per cent in Covid cases in the past seven days, with the number of patients with Covid in hospital up 29 per cent in the week to March 23rd, while numbers in ICU have grown by 25 per cent.

There have been 27,568 attendances nationally in Emergency Departments.