Hospital staff are bracing themselves for a surge in coronavirus patients as the number of cases escalate.
Anne O’Connor, HSE chief operations officer, said they are preparing for 2,500 coronavirus patients in hospital, with up to 400 people in ICU over the coming weeks.
There are currently 1,151 people in hospital with coronavirus and 101 patients in ICU.
Ireland’s coronavirus reproduction number is now between 2.4 and 3, the highest level seen throughout the pandemic.
“We hope we don’t get there and the action people take will impact on that,” Dr O’Connor told RTE.
“Part of the challenge is time lag. When we hear the big numbers announced every day, in terms of the number who test positive, it takes a number of days or even a week for that to translate into hospital figures and another week again for ICU figures.”
The senior HSE official said that all hospital sites have surge capacity and will scale up to respond to higher numbers.
It comes as Cork University Hospital (CUH) is preparing to trigger its emergency tiered escalation plan over the rising number of cases.
Dr O’Connor said they are “concerned” about a number of sites in Cork.
“We have scaled back on non-Covid work on much of our sites, we are prioritising Covid and there are risks in that both for people who haven’t been able to access services and had appointments cancelled this week,” she added.
The decision to suspend non-Covid treatments is to maximise capacity in hospitals to care for the sickest patients who have Covid-19, the HSE said.
Dr O’Connor also urged the public to use community assessments hubs across the country which are staffed by GPs, health professionals and nurses.
We are always protected in PPE but you are in close contact (with patients) and sometimes you still get it.
She said one of the major challenges is people turning up to emergency departments with Covid-19 without having contacted their GP first.
She added: “Covid is a very scary thing because it impacts on your breathing and people feel that they should go to hospital themselves, but we have to remember that GPs working around Ireland are senior clinicians and if they feel someone needs to be in an emergency department then they probably do.”
Michelle Kingston, an emergency department nurse at CUH, said they are at crisis point.
“A lot of our staff are out sick with Covid or out because of contacts. That’s the challenge for us,” she said.
“We still have an influx of patients coming in and we have to deal with that.”
More than 180 nurses at the hospital are not able to work because they either have the virus or were a close contact with a confirmed case.
Ms Kingston fears that there will be more staff out sick because of the levels of contact with confirmed cases.
“It’s all hands on deck,” she added.
“We are always protected in PPE but you are in close contact (with patients) and sometimes you still get it.”
She said that a lot of people with Covid-19 are self-referring to the emergency department which is causing difficulties.
On Thursday, there were
6,521 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland and 10 additional deaths linked to the disease.
A raft of new measures to prevent the spread of the virus was introduced by the Government this week.
Schools have moved to remote learning, most construction work will cease by 6pm today and new protocols on international travel were announced as part of the Government’s new measures.
Owners of businesses such as pubs and restaurants have been warned they may be closed until the end of March.