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‘carnage’ in hospitals ‘You look around wondering how much more pressure the health system can take’


Patients wait on trolleys in the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick.

Patients wait on trolleys in the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick.

Patients wait on trolleys in the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick.

Medical staff have been battling to cope with the “carnage” in Irish hospitals since Christmas because of the explosion in Covid-19 cases.

One junior doctor said that nurses, medics and support staff in Cork University Hospital (CUH) were now “out on their feet” due to exhaustion in trying to cope with the combination of soaring case numbers and roster pressure from large numbers of personnel being off work.

Another staff member at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) – which has recorded the most Covid-19 cases of any Irish acute hospital – warned that they felt “overwhelmed” by the sheer scale of the third virus wave.

UHL had the highest number of confirmed cases (142) of any hospital in the country followed by CUH (139), Galway University Hospital (127), St Vincent’s Hospital Dublin (123) and Drogheda Hospital (110).

Only three critical care beds were left available at UHL. Twelve seriously ill Covid-19 patients were being treated at the 28-bed critical care unit.
A UL Hospitals spokesperson confirmed there were “a total of 574 staff across UL Hospitals Group unavailable for work due to Covid-19. The majority of staff are based at UHL where there were 201 nurses and healthcare attendants unavailable for work”.

More than 4,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in Limerick over the past two weeks, including 165 new cases announced by Nphet.

CUH is one of six acute hospitals in Ireland struggling to cope with more than 100 Covid-19 cases. A total of 1,686 patients are being treated in Irish hospitals for the virus.

At one point, more than 140 CUH staff, including 100 nurses, were off work having either tested positive for the virus or having been a close contact of a positive case.

A further 14 Irish hospitals have each got 50 or more cases of the virus. The CUH junior doctor – who asked to be unnamed – said staff were called to a meeting and briefed that they were now facing “the peak crisis of the entire pandemic”.

“There are times you look around and you wonder how much more pressure the system can take. You can see the strain on the faces of doctors and nurses,” she said.

“It has been very tough. It was tough last April and May when the first wave peaked but this has been something else altogether.” Even medical rotations have effectively been suspended as doctors struggle to cope with the demands of soaring patient numbers.

“The commitment of doctors, nurses, hospital support staff and managers has been incredible, but you can see the toll it is taking on everyone,” she said. “I left a ward a few days ago and went into a store room to find a nurse crying. I still don’t know if it was exhaustion, stress or worry about a loved one with Covid.”

Junior doctors have borne the brunt of the pandemic third wave by working longer hours, taking extra shifts to cover for sick colleagues and postponing leave. “A few of my classmates opted to work as junior doctors in Australia and New Zealand and their work demands are like night-and-day compared to ours.

“When I chat to them on social media and explain what it has been like here since Christmas, they just can’t believe it – and some of them worked here throughout the first wave of the virus.”

The UHL staff member admitted the situation was challenging. “The last two weeks it has gone ballistic with the number of Covid patients coming in. We are down staff and there are areas of the hospital full of Covid patients,” said the source.

“We have doubled down on numbers; in corridors they are on top of one another. It’s impossible to maintain social distancing in the ED, and staff are demoralised and overwhelmed,” they added.

Some 2,400 staff across the group’s UHL, Ennis Hospital and University Limerick Maternity Hospital facilities have received the first of two vaccine doses. A similar number of the group’s staff at Nenagh Hospital, St John’s Hospital, Croom Orthopaedic Hospital have not.

“Ultimately, the vaccine will be rolled out across all hospitals in UL Hospitals Group,” a UL Hospitals spokesman said.

“Currently, we are prioritising staff in intensive care and high-dependency units, in our emergency care and Covid admission pathways, and on our Covid-positive wards, so that we can continue managing our emergency services. We are currently issuing as much vaccine as possible, based on availability of vaccine and clinical prioritisation.

"All staff will be offered the vaccine regardless of employment status or grade.

"This includes temporary staff, agency staff and contractors and students on clinical placements.

"We look forward to rolling out the vaccine programme to the other sites in UL Hospitals Group.”

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Irish Independent