The level of outbreaks of flu in Irish emergency departments during this winter is “perturbing” and shouldn’t happen “if we got vaccination right” according to the HSE’s head of public care.
Across this influenza season, which arrived in Ireland roughly four weeks earlier than normal, some 90 outbreaks of respiratory disease were reported, with 79 of those occurring in healthcare settings.
“That is an issue that is perturbing because we shouldn’t be getting outbreaks in healthcare settings. Outbreaks just show that we’re not doing it right,” Dr Kevin Kelleher, assistant national director for public care and child health, said.
However, Dr Kelleher said that “massive inroads” are being made in the levels of uptake of the flu vaccination across the country, and that Ireland is one of the few nations in Europe which is increasing its levels.
He said however that the level of uptake among medical workers needs to be higher, with just 50% of hospital staff getting the flu vaccine this season.
At the HSE’s latest winter briefing in Dublin, officials said that the peak of the flu season, the early onset of which has been repeatedly blamed for the record trolley numbers seen earlier this week, may already have been reached.
The worst-hit hospitals remain University Hospital Limerick with 48 people on trolleys; University Hospital Galway with 45; and South Tipperary General Hospital with 44.
Cork University Hospital’s figure, which stood at 43 on Wednesday morning, had reduced to just 8 as at 2pm.
The HSE said it has taken “significant” actions to reduce the trolley figures, which has seen additional capacity sourced from private, voluntary, and community medical facilities.
The body’s entire winter plan funding of €26 million was spent by the end of 2019 to that end, Anne O’Connor, the HSE’s chief operating officer, said.
Figures released to the Irish Examiner show that 198 such additional beds were sourced over seven days up to January 3, the vast majority of which were in convalescent homes, in order to alleviate the trolley crisis.
The cost of one bed is typically judged to be €100,000 per year, suggesting an outlay of roughly €380,000 for that week.
Some 28 people have died as a result of contracting the influenza virus to date this winter, with that figure expected to rise as the season begins to recede. This year’s season, while having arrived early, is also set to last just nine weeks, compared to the normal duration of roughly 12 weeks.
The number of people on trolleys in emergency departments and on wards around the country also continued its downward trajectory, with 520 people recorded as awaiting a bed around the country by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation yesterday morning — a decrease of 101 overnight.
The extreme overcrowding conditions seen in emergency departments, particularly in the west and southwest of the country, earlier this week, where a record trolley figure of 760 was reached on two days in succession, were largely attributable to a perfect storm of an early flu season and a large increase in the number of people aged over-75 being admitted, according to Ms O’Connor.
“We know that people aged over 75 have a longer length of stay, frequently have more complications, and require more intensive care,” she said.
Some 437 additional patients aged over-75 were admitted to emergency departments over the past four weeks compared with the same period 12 months ago.