GPs feel strain as flu cases set to peak in coming weeks
The health service is buckling under the strain of dealing with a sharp rise in the number of flu cases.
Some GP surgeries reported being inundated with patients with flu and respiratory ailments as many reopened for the first time yesterday after the holiday season, while the number of people on trolleys in hospitals reached a record high.
There are fears that the situation will deteriorate further, as health experts estimate cases of flu will not peak for another three to four weeks.
It is predicted there will be a large increase in cases over the coming weeks, which will heap further pressure on an already overstretched health service.
The National Association of GPs said that some of its members have been "out the door" with flu cases since Christmas.
"The entire health service is under incredible strain," said chief executive Chris Goodey.
He said that GPs had been "absolutely inundated" with patients with flu.
Some one million doses of the flu vaccine were ordered by the health services and around 930,000 have been distributed, as calls were made for at-risk groups to get themselves vaccinated.
Stephen McMahon, chairman of the Irish Patients' Association, said that he would be very concerned about how the expected hike in flu cases will impact on GP surgeries and hospitals over the coming days and weeks.
"We already hear from GPs that they are overstretched because of shortages in some areas," he said.
"If people are forced to go to hospital, there will be an increase in the numbers on trolleys, and it will create an enormous burden for hospitals if this trend continues to increase. I think GP practices are at tipping point in some areas. Some patients already face a wait of two or three days to get an appointment.
"I am very concerned about the impact on GP surgeries and hospitals. I will be very watchful for the impact on GP surgeries and overcrowding and the knock-on effect in emergency departments and the impact on the numbers on trolleys. It needs constant vigilance by the authorities."
Meanwhile, Dr Tom Ryan, president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), said that yesterday's record number of patients on trolleys requiring hospital care was "entirely predictable and unacceptable".
He said the crisis was due to the fact that acute hospital inpatient bed numbers were cut by 1,400 in the past decade when they should, at a minimum, have been increased in tandem with the country's growing and ageing population trends.
Dr Ryan said that the shortage of beds, equipment and staff meant that hospitals did not have the capacity to provide the care the population needed and deserved.
The IHCA president said he welcomed Health Minister Simon Harris's statement, in the past week, on the need for thousands more acute hospital beds.
However, Dr Ryan added that it was essential that the commissioning of the additional beds was advanced urgently as our hospitals were at breaking point.
Kildare GP Dr Brendan O'Shea, the director of the Post-Graduate Resource Centre with the Irish College of General Practitioners, said he began to see the first cases of flu surface around two to four weeks ago. He has seen an increase in cases in the GP co-oper ative K-Doc (Kildare and West Wicklow Doctors on Duty), as well as in his practice.
"Healthy individuals by and large will survive influenza very well," he said. "Avoid strenuous activity, take fluids and paracetamol."