scary numbers | 

Up to 450 Covid patients in ICU by Christmas a ‘possibility’ but ‘marginal change in behaviour’ can avoid this

Prof Nolan admitted calling antigen tests “snake oil” wasn’t “wisest thing” he had tweeted

Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group

Ciara O'Loughlin

Nphet’s Prof Philip Nolan said it’s “possible” there could be 450 Covid-19 patients in ICU by Christmas.

However, he said just a marginal change in the population's individual behaviour can avoid this.

Nphet’s most recent modelling predicted that if behaviour doesn’t change, the optimistic trajectory would be that 200,000 people would become infected in the month of December.

The pessimistic trajectory was that 400,000 people would get Covid-19 next month, which would translate to 450 people in intensive care.

"The models are based on what might happen if nothing changes over the coming weeks in terms of people's contact and the level of care they take to prevent transmission of the virus during that social contact,” Prof Nolan said on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland.

“What has happened over the last two to three weeks is we went from 2,000 cases a day to 4,300 cases a day, and if nothing changes we are on a trajectory towards very large case numbers and large numbers of people in hospital.

“Its possible [there will be 450 people in ICU by Christmas day] but we are trying now to do everything we can to evert that scenario.

“It only takes a marginal change in our behaviour to bring the virus back under control.”

Dr Andrew Westbrook, an intensive care specialist in St Vincent’s University Hospital Dublin, said he is “deeply concerned” about the ICU system becoming overwhelmed.

He said that the majority of patients he is seeing in ICU are unvaccinated “so it’s a much sicker cohort of patients”.

"Here we are in 2021, and whilst in the last 12 to 18 months we have increased our ICU capacity from 255 beds to 301 beds, it’s nowhere near where we should be regardless of sitting in the middle of a very serious pandemic,” he said.

“We are very much behind where we should be even looking after the normal day-to-day admissions that we get.

“I am deeply concerned because we are very rapidly facing a situation where we will exceed our capacity.

“Then you are into surge capacity in other areas where the staff aren’t as trained to look after these sick patients.”

Dr Westbrook said he believes we will be living with this virus for the next couple of years, so serious investment is needed in Ireland’s health system.

"If we want to function as a normal society where we can go out and meet people and interact with people we are going to have to equip our healthcare delivery system with the capacity and the staff to withstand further waves in the future,” he said.

“We are a first world western democracy, we are a wealthy country we should be able to provide care for our people.

“We need urgent investment into critical care across the nation and not just the beds and the machines, we need urgent investment in the people and to train them so they can look after these very complex patients.”

New measures were announced by the Government on Tuesday in a bid to curb the current Covid surge.

This includes the wider use of antigen tests, which Nphet has repeatedly said should be used with caution.

Earlier this year, Prof Nolan described Lidl’s antigen tests as “snake oil”, however, today he said that wasn’t “the wisest thing” he’s ever tweeted.

"I have to agree that wasn’t the wisest thing I’ve ever tweeted, but, nonetheless, I think the issue is quite clear that antigen tests have their use, we are using them in appropriate circumstances and i think there’s clarity around that issue,” he said.

He added: "It's important to say that there is no such thing as a good test or a bad test, there are people who advocate the wider use of antigen testing and I have to say the evidence is not clear in many cases what they mean by the wider use and the evidence of the wider use of antigen testing and its effectiveness of interrupting transmission isn't clear.

“Our policy nationally has been to use antigen tests in certain circumstances where those antigen tests work.”

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