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Using ICU surge capacity would see surgeries cancelled, the HSE has said

There are only 27 beds available in intensive care units across the country amid rising coronavirus cases.

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Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer at HSE (Leon Farrell/PA)

Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer at HSE (Leon Farrell/PA)

Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer at HSE (Leon Farrell/PA)

Elective surgeries and other hospital activities will have to be cancelled if ICU units overwhelmed with Covid-19 need to use their “surge capacity”.

There are 27 intensive care beds available out of a total of 287 in Ireland’s hospital system.

There is potential for a “surge” capacity of around 350 beds to be brought on board if necessary, but this will require cancellation of other treatments.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin this week defended the ICU capacity amid warnings from Nphet that it could be overwhelmed by November 7 due to exponential growth of the coronavirus.

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin at Government Buildings in Dublin (Julien Behal/PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin at Government Buildings in Dublin (Julien Behal/PA)

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin at Government Buildings in Dublin (Julien Behal/PA)

Defending the decision to go against Nphet advice to introduce a level five lockdown this week, Mr Martin cited the surge capacity in hospitals.

He said: “If you look at the surge capacity that was achieved in the first phase, it went to 370 ICU beds and the HSE are saying they have the capacity. They are saying they have the capacity to deal with this.”

However, the HSE told a briefing on Thursday that using this capacity will see other services cancelled.

Chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said: “It would involve, if you were leaning into a surge, you’d have to create capacity through cancellation of other ICU dependent or elective activity.

“That’s what happened in that first surge, we cleared hospital beds. We cleared all, what we deemed not immediate necessary activity, in order to create space for what we felt was an overwhelming surge of Covid-related disease coming in.”

He added: “If the figures went up in terms of ICU requirement beyond what we have now, which is 287 beds today, we were building into that surge capacity which could perhaps go up to 350. This is a temporary redeployment using alternative areas.

“That would involve cancelling or trying to curtail other activities that depend on ICU activity. ”

The health service is facing additional challenges because of the high number of staff missing on covid-related leave.

Chief Operating Officer Anne O’Connor said: “We had over 1,000 people off work because of covid related leave. They are not all people who have tested positive, but they are people who have had close contacts or tested positive.”

That was the figure at the start of this week, compared to 400 staff members just three weeks ago.

HSE CEO Paul Reid has again urged people to cut down on their social contacts, warning that ICU beds “can’t be the first line of defence”.

“It has to be the public supporting us,” he added.

There is time if everybody galvanises together, takes the public health measures and avoid the scenario of a level five lockdownPaul Reid, HSE

Dr Des Fitzgerald said the cancellation of such activities was not a “new concept”, when dealing with capacity issues.

He added: “To have to cancel any kind of elective activity is not something that we do lightly.”

He said those decisions would have to be made n hospitals on a case by case basis.

Mr Reid appealed the public to heed advice to avoid a level five lockdown.

He said: “We are definitely appealing to the public, there is time if everybody galvanises together, takes the public health measures and avoid the scenario of a level five lockdown.

“So over the next 10 days, the next two weeks, we’re really urging the public to work with us on it.

“Our clinical teams have the very difficult dilemma of wanting to keep all of the services going and equally cognisant of the impacts of lockdowns from the first phase.

“So we don’t want to get to that phase and we’re asking the public to help us not get there.”

Online Editors