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Hospitals at risk Surgeries cancelled as 1,800 health staff now out due to Covid

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University Hospital Limerick

University Hospital Limerick

University Hospital Limerick

Hospitals are at risk of being pushed to the brink in less than a month as it emerged the rise in Covid-19 patients is already triggering a “last resort” option to cancel surgeries.

With more than 1,800 HSE staff out due to Covid-related issues around the country, University Hospital Limerick and Galway University Hospital confirmed yesterday they had to cancel surgeries.

In some cases they even had to close wards due to the increase in Covid-19 patients at a time of growing levels of respiratory illness and emergency attendances.

It comes as 448 Covid-19 patients were occupying a hospital bed yesterday, including 88 in intensive care – more than one in every three beds for the most seriously ill.

Another 2,029 cases of the virus were reported yesterday. High numbers of infections leave a lag effect, with forecasts of 800 to 1,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital at the end of next month with 150 to 200 expected in intensive care.

Although the high level of vaccination providing protection against severe illness will prevent a repeat of the surge of last January, the hospitals will this winter also have to contend with flu and other respiratory illnesses, patients who had delayed care due to the pandemic and massive waiting lists.

HSE chief operations officer Ann O’Connor said hospitals were also being affected by the absence of around 1,823 staff who were out due to Covid-19 related issues.

A spokesperson for the University of Limerick Hospital Group said yesterday it postponed all but “the most urgent outpatient clinics from Monday to Wednesday in its Limerick hospital this week, along with some elective surgeries”.

“On Wednesday of this week, there were 23 Covid-19 positive patients in the hospital, eight of whom were in critical care.”

At the same time there is an “extraordinarily high level of demand for emergency care”.

The spokesperson said cancelling elective activity was an “option of last resort and the group is profoundly sorry”.

Over the past fortnight, University Hospital Galway has had to postpone around 30 surgeries scheduled for waiting list patients.

The hospital is dealing with a significant number of patients attending its emergency department, many of whom have had to stay on trolleys while waiting for a bed to become free.

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It has sufficient critical care beds but has had to reconfigure its cardiothoracic intensive care unit to accommodate Covid-19 patients. Cardiothoracic patients are being placed in general intensive care beds.

Other hospitals badly hit as a result of the Covid-19 surge include Cork University Hospital and Mayo University Hospital, as well as hospitals in Sligo.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said Covid-19 admissions could peak at the end of next month and the situation could deteriorate next month.

While it “won’t be at the same level as January when 2,000 Covid-19 patients were in hospital and 22 in intensive care”, it risks hospitals having to bear the brunt of the latest surge.

The HSE’s winter waiting list plan could be derailed by the spike, with 648,438 on outpatient waiting lists. More than 74,300 are waiting for an inpatient or day procedure and 31,000 for an endoscopy.

Mr Reid warned if hospitals have to turn to surge capacity for more ICU beds it would mean moving staff from other areas of the hospital and ward closures.

Meanwhile, from November 1, all maternity units must allow a nominated partner to access inpatient areas during normal visiting hours of 8am to 9pm.

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