Growing pressure on hospitals from Covid-19, says HSE chief

·6-min read
Paramedics and ambulances at the Mater Hospital in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Archive)
Paramedics and ambulances at the Mater Hospital in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Archive)

Hospitals are suspending elective care amid growing pressure on the health system from Covid-19, the HSE chief has said.

On Tuesday, Paul Reid said that it remained unclear when Ireland would reach the peak of the current wave of the virus.

The Omicron variant has caused record numbers of cases in Ireland over recent days.

Paul Reid, CEO of the HSE (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Archive)
Paul Reid, CEO of the HSE (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Archive)

The HSE chief executive said on Tuesday that hospitals would be suspending elective care, due to growing pressure from Covid-19.

“Many hospitals were already suspending elective care with the pressures they’re under,” he said.

Confirming that the HSE will rely on the help of some private hospitals, he told RTE radio: “The reality of it is we will have to suspend, in many cases, elective care.”

That decision, he said, will be monitored over the next two weeks.

The growing pressure is mirrored in the Covid-19 testing system.

Senior HSE director Damien McCallion said on Tuesday that there continued to be a “huge demand” for PCR testing as Ireland copes with record levels of Covid-19 cases.

He predicted that the testing system, which now has a capacity of 650,000 tests a week when PCR and antigen testing is combined, will remain “under strain” for at least the next week.

Mr McCallion acknowledged that the actual level of cases was probably much higher than that recorded by the PCR testing system.

“There are definitely higher numbers of the disease out there,” he said.

“We’re seeing this globally, with all testing systems under strain given the high transmissibility of this particular variant.”

Mr McCallion also confirmed that there were 30,000 registrations on the first day of vaccine registration for children aged five to 11.

Education Minister Norma Foley (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)
Education Minister Norma Foley (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)

“I think what our experience tells us from looking at the 12 to 17 uptake is that it’s a much slower process, and we understand that because parents will want to have the information, they will want to talk to their child, consult with others, perhaps.

“And what we would encourage parents to do is to do that, to look at trusted sources of information – that’s really important.”

Mr McCallion also said that be believed Ireland had a sufficient supply of antigen tests.

“We certainly have sufficient numbers on the supply chain through January. So we’re hoping that we’ll get through, but like all of our systems, as demand increases, that’s something we’ll have to track and monitor on an almost daily basis at the moment,” he told RTE radio.

On Tuesday afternoon, teaching unions will meet with the Education Minister to discuss the reopening of schools.

Government ministers have insisted that despite the high case numbers, schools would reopen as normal on Thursday.

The Government party leaders are also meeting to discuss the latest Covid-19 situation, following the festive period.

The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland has called for a staggered approach to the reopening of schools, given the high level of the virus in the community.

General secretary Kieran Christie said on Tuesday that there could be “chaos” in some schools in the days to come without some kind of review and revision, given the threat posed by the Omicron variant.

The union wants HEPA filters and medical-grade masks to be made available in schools.

Michael Gillespie, general secretary of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), said that “one size does not fit all”.

“I think we are going to have schools that may be able to fully open on Thursday, because we don’t know the actual effect in each school.

“We could have a school where there might be 20% of the staff missing and they may have been able to source some, and there may be no effect.

“But there may be schools that have 25% or 30% missing and then tough decisions may have to be made in those schools.

“We’re talking about being based on a school-by-school basis, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all across the country.”

He added: “I think it is important that every school opens with whatever restrictions may have to be applied based on the staffing that’s available.

“A school has to open and it has to be open not just with the health and safety about Covid, but other health and safety restrictions there.

“There has to be teachers to teach in front of class.”

Colm O Rourke, principal of St Patrick’s Classical School in Navan in Meath, said that schools should be opened “on hope rather than fear”.

“The realities of the school situation is that teachers of exam subjects may be out more than other classes, so each school would be better to make judgments themselves on a day-to-day basis on what you are able to bring in, and I would hope that we would be able to bring in everybody,” he added.

On Tuesday, Green Party junior minister Pippa Hackett said she did not believe there would be chaos once schools return.

“It’s a fearful term and I wouldn’t like to think that there will be chaos on Thursday,” she said.

“I think the overall agreement and acceptance is that we really want to do everything we can to get kids back to school and at this moment in time they will be returning to school this week.”

Currently Bus Eireann is experiencing minor disruption as a result of Covid-related absences across its 17 depots, with the vast majority of services being delivered as planned at present

Bus Eireann statement

Asked on RTE radio about calls for new protective measures for teachers and pupils, she said that the Government had always listened to public health advice.

She said she hoped that the meeting between trade unions and the Department of Education would deliver clarity later on Tuesday.

“I think children have been safe in schools up until now and I think they will continue to be safe in schools.”

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly tweeted new figures on Tuesday showing that Ireland has now administered 2.2 million boosters and third doses.

On Tuesday afternoon, Bus Eireann urged customers to plan ahead before travelling in case of disruption to bus services due to some staff absences caused by Covid-19.

In a statement, the national bus company said: “Currently Bus Eireann is experiencing minor disruption as a result of Covid-related absences across its 17 depots, with the vast majority of services being delivered as planned at present.

“Bus Eireann’s team is working agilely on a daily basis to manage absences and to prioritise delivery of services which minimise customer disruption.”

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