'Keep your child at home if they display symptoms of the flu', pleads minister
Parents have been asked to keep their children at home next week if they are showing flu-like symptoms in a major escalation of the healthcare crisis.
Embattled Health Minister Simon Harris told the Herald that the new school term could cause the flu epidemic to worsen.
And he also urged any nursing home patients who develop the flu to remain in their facilities if possible, rather than attending a hospital.
Just hours after it emerged 12 children were among those to linger on trolleys in the country's three children's hospitals in Dublin, Mr Harris called on parents to keep their children out of school if they appeared to be ill.
He said failure to do so could result in parents, teachers and other children being affected.
"Schools are coming back next week and it's a very important public health message for parents: if your child is under the weather or possibly has the flu, please keep them at home," Mr Harris said.
"We don't want a situation when the schools return where we see the flu spread throughout the system into teachers, parents and back into homes as well," the Wicklow TD added.
The warning came as senior clinicians last night warned that the flu epidemic has yet to reach its peak.
According to the latest figures from the HSE, two children in Crumlin were waiting on a hospital trolley for more than nine hours.
But overall, the overcrowding crisis eased yesterday.
However, it still represents record levels.
The figure includes 56 patients who were waiting on trolleys for more than 24 hours.
Speaking during a trade mission to Hungary yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar apologised to patients affected by the trolley crisis.
"I want to extend my regret and also my apologies to any patient who has experienced a long delay or a trolley wait in our emergency departments in the last couple of days," he said.
But the news that the crisis is to worsen and impact on schools will prove deeply worrying for patients.
Speaking to the Herald from his office in the Department of Health, Mr Harris said the children who had been left on trolleys had received special attention.
"If you do send your child into the school environment with suspected flu, that runs the risk of that spreading throughout the entire school community and obviously that could be dangerous," he said.
"So this is an appeal to parents to be conscious of that with the schools coming back next week."
Teachers unions last night said they did not anticipate any major disruption.
In a statement, the Department of Education said that any decision to close individual schools rests with the boards of management.