overcrowding | 

Swamped hospitals hit by flu and Covid outbreaks as new ‘Kraken’ variant detected in Ireland

The Omicron sub-variant is being tracked in several countries amid concerns it is highly contagious

Ambulances waiting outside Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, last Tuesday. Photo: Gareth Chaney© Gareth Chaney

Eiish O'ReganIndependent.ie

Hospitals have become a breeding ground for Covid and flu outbreaks as swamped emergency departments endure record overcrowding.

It comes as the first case of a new Covid-19 variant XBB.1.5, an offshoot of Omicron dubbed ‘Kraken’, has been detected here.

The Omicron sub-variant is being tracked in several countries amid concerns it is highly contagious and better at getting around protection from vaccines and previous infection, although its full impact has yet to be assessed.

There were 14 notified flu outbreaks in hospitals here in the last week of December, infecting 47 people, as 1,233 patients had to be admitted for the illness.

Hospitals suffered 10 Covid-19 outbreaks, as a spike in both viruses helped push services to the brink.

Up to 10 patients or staff picked up the flu in hospital outbreaks as the virus took hold, mostly in the east of the country.

Beaumont Hospital emergency consultant Peadar Gilligan said yesterday that risk of cross-infection is a serious concern.

“It is highly challenging working with so small available space,” he said.

Although hospitals still have Covid and non-Covid pathways, the deluge of attendances and prolonged delays have made it more difficult to protect all patients from infection risk.

Patients are swabbed for Covid-19 if they are deemed to be in need of admission.

It comes amid some relief in emergency care gridlock yesterday. The number of people on trolleys remained high at 489, although that was far below the record of 931 last week.

Doctors and staff who would not normally be rostered for weekends responded in large numbers to appeals to work over Saturday and Sunday to speed up patient discharges, which rose to more than 400 compared with 278 the previous weekend.

Dr Gilligan said a reduction in patients presenting to emergency departments helped ease pressure, but he expected the numbers to rise again this week.

He said the slowdown in presentations would be transient and will pick up again, and he emphasised the need for more hospital beds.

University Hospital Limerick – again the worst hit, with 48 patients waiting for a bed – began a new trial to ease some pressure as a small number of ambulances went to Ennis medical assessment unit instead.

Three ambulances with lower acuity patients who did not need critical care were brought to Ennis yesterday and those numbers will continue to be small.

A spokesman in Limerick said: “This pathway will result in patients receiving medical treatment in a hospital closer to their home, will reduce presentations to emergency departments and will release ambulances more quickly to respond to other emergency calls.”

Nationally, there are 71 beds unavailable in public hospitals, with 22 closed due to lack of staff and others impacted by infection control.

Meanwhile, responding to the medicines shortage index compiled by Azure Pharmaceuticals showing 212 different medicines are unavailable, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) said: “Due to a combination of factors, including the level of respiratory illnesses in the community, a significant increase in demand for medicines used to treat seasonal conditions such as colds and flus has been observed over recent weeks.

“In some cases, this demand has been two to three times the normal level seen during the same period in previous years.

“In cases where the medicine initially prescribed for the patient is unavailable, patients may be switched to a suitable therapeutic alternative.”

Suitable medicines continue to be available to treat respiratory illnesses and their symptoms in both adults and children.

“There is no need for healthcare professionals to order extra quantities of medicines, or for doctors to issue additional prescriptions,” said the HPRA.

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