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“winter levels” Huge surge of A&E patients in hospitals as Ireland braces for a wave of Delta variant cases

HSE chief warns emergency departments under pressure

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Hospitals are experiencing “winter level” surges of patients in emergency departments as Ireland braces for a wave of Delta variant cases.

HSE chief operations officer Ann O’Connor said some hospitals have seen a large number of people attending in the last week.

Ms O’Connor said hospitals in Mayo, Galway, Tallaght and Mullingar have been under particular strain. Ms O’Connor said some emergency departments are seeing “winter level” attendances.

These hospitals may have to cut back on non-Covid care again if there is a serious rise in patients hit by the Delta variant.

The HSE revealed it has plans in place to trigger if the highly infectious Delta variant causes a spike in cases and a rise in hospitalisations.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry admitted although Covid-19 vaccination has weakened the link between cases of the virus and hospitalisations but it is not “broken”.

He said: “If there are enough cases, there will be enough vaccine breakthroughs in fully vaccinated people. If there are enough cases, those who are unvaccinated will get the greater numbers of those cases.”

There will be some rise in hospitalisations but it will not be on the scale seen in January and it is unclear at this point how serious it will be. Infections are mostly in people under 45.

The inevitable strategy if there is a significant rise in Covid-19 patients is to scale back on waiting list patients.

The HSE plan involves diverting public patients to private hospitals again if needed. It comes as HSE chief Paul Reid admitted the vaccination roll out will not be able to keep pace with the escalation in cases spurred by the Delta variant. He said cases will likely peak in August but the vaccination will not be able to keep pace.

Vaccinations, which had been at a peak, will fall next week due to a drop in supply although around 240,000 will still receive a jab.

He said the HSE is closing the gap every day with vaccines but the “most likely scenario is that the pace of growth of the Delta variant will most likely outmatch our supply of vaccines in the coming weeks.”

Dr Henry said that even the least vulnerable groups can get the virus and some will get sick. “That is what we are seeing in hospitalisations in the UK. In Scotland over a five-week period, hospitalisations went up from nine to 35 a day.”

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Some two million people are now fully vaccinated and seven in 10 adults have had at least one dose.

He added that in order to be admitted to hospital “you have to be fairly sick”.

“Intensive care is fairly steady at the moment but we are used to seeing that time lag between a rise in cases, then hospitalisations, and then intensive care and deaths.”

He was speaking as another 534 new cases of the virus were reported yesterday.

There has been no surge in Covid-19 admissions so far and the extent of the upcoming impact remains unclear.

There are 301 intensive care beds now in the system and 260 patients are in these units now.

Dr Henry said the aim is to have 321 of these beds by the end of the year but it is “not like going down to Bargain Town and getting a bed.”

Fifty-eight patients with Covid were in hospital yesterday, a rise since last week. But the numbers in intensive care are stable at 17. Around 70pc of cases are the Delta variant.

The evidence is that it spreads quickly, with some infection starting in settings outdoors and passing through a web of disease among other groups and being passed on in cars and sports facilities.

The threat to hospitals comes as they continue to try to recover from the cyber attack which led to widespread cancellation of patient appointments.

Mr Reid said he is being straight with the public and they need to be mindful of exposure to the virus in the coming weeks.

The highest incidence is in Donegal, Waterford and Sligo.

An HSE spokesperson said it is also concerned it will see its test and trace system come under pressure. The numbers of people showing up for testing are on par with January levels but the positivity rate is much lower at 4.6pc compared to 50pc early in the year.

The HSE plan in the event of more strain in the system involves people logging in close contacts online. The plan will also involve the use of more antigen tests.

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