The lack of urgency in addressing hospital overcrowding across the country is storing up an autumn and winter time bomb, TD Michael McNamara said, adding: “Covid-19 hasn’t gone away.”
Mr McNamara took a wealth of clinical testimony and expert opinion before his committee was closed down ahead of the first jabs programme.
“There was a particularly bad flu recently in Australia, and that’s usually a precursor to what’s coming here,” he said.
“If urgent measures are not put in place in the budget, I fear a meltdown in our A&Es next winter.
“While there was great hope last year that the vaccine campaign could solve the Covid-19 problem, it is now apparent that — like the flu — a vaccine campaign alone will not solve the problem and we need to urgently increase capacity in our hospitals.”
Mr McNamara said the vaccine programme has been a game-changer, but immunity waned over six months, many people had failed to get their booster and new variants of the virus had emerged, leading to a summer wave.
There was also the question of possibly diminished capacity, he said, with the Government separately having decided at its last cabinet meeting before the summer recess to no longer provide free Covid tests for large cohorts of the population.
“I fear disorganisation with so many senior personnel gone from the HSE and the Department of Health or on the way out the door,” Mr McNamara said.
“We’re told that we have a big budget surplus this year, but economists warn that this largesse will not continue.
“We therefore need to spend a sizeable portion of this money on long-needed capital investment in our hospitals to avoid overcrowding and collapse next winter and in future winters.”
There was a lack of urgency around addressing hospital overcrowding across the country, Mr McNamara said, citing University Hospital Limerick as “usually the worst”, but with others – such as Tallaght – finding themselves unable to cope with demand and forced to go “off-call”.
“The whole situation is of grave concern,” he said. “Covid-19 hasn’t gone away and was never going to disappear.
“The Government spent far too much money in a vain attempt to eliminate it – and comparatively little on the long-term measures required to cope with it.”
The flu in the Antipodes would arrive in Ireland, as has been seen over many years in patterns of seasonal effects globally, Mr McNamara added.
“Experts are blaming it on the after-effects of lockdowns and lower immunity in the general population,” he said.
“In 2020 and 2021, there were paroxysms of fear that our hospitals would be overrun as a result of Covid-19.
“Now it seems to be greeted in Government Buildings with just a shrug of the shoulders.”