Saturday 23 February 2019

'We can't cope' - flu surge to hit hospitals

Patient numbers in hospitals continue to rise
Patient numbers in hospitals continue to rise

More misery for patients on trolleys looms this week as the number of people with flu rises rapidly.

A surge in patient numbers in overcrowded hospitals continued over the weekend.

The reopening of schools today after the holidays is also expected to cause a big increase in flu cases in the coming days.

The HSE reported 330 patients were on trolleys in emergency departments yesterday morning. But the overall number of patients on trolleys was significantly higher because those on trolleys in wards were not counted, said the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation president Phil Ni Sheaghdha.

A top emergency medicine consultant warned that the Irish hospital system was not able to cope with big surges in patient numbers.


"What we don't have in the Irish health care system is any surge capacity," Dr Emily O'Conor, president of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, said. "I was criticised for saying that emergency departments are working at 100pc capacity because we are actually working at 200pc and 300pc capacity all year round.

"But when any surge occurs, be it influenza or something else, there is no ability for the system to access extra capacity. We can't cope with any surge in the system. A surge is happening at the moment with flu," said Dr O'Conor.

She is an emergency medicine consultant at Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown in Dublin.

"The concerns of my paediatric emergency medicine colleagues would be that influenza doesn't really hit our paediatric population until the schools go back."

Meanwhile, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) said that HSE advice to go to your pharmacist rather than attending a GP for a common illness was "ironic" as medical card holders cannot reimburse non-prescription drugs without first visiting a GP for a prescription.

The IPU is critical that a pharmacy-based minor-ailment scheme, which would allow medical card holders to purchase over-the-counter remedies without visiting their GP, did not commence nationwide after it was first piloted in 2016.

"All last week with the flu upsurge, GPs and hospitals more overcrowded than ever, the HSE has been tweeting that people should look after themselves or go to a pharmacy instead of GP, and it seems ironic because, if you have a medical card, you can't actually get anything unless you have a prescription from a GP," said general secretary of the IPU Darragh O'Loughlin.

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