Q. Where can I find information on Covid 19 in Ireland?
A. First up, anyone with any queries or seeking information should check the official sites, which are regularly updated: hse.ie/coronavirus, hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/ and gov.ie/en/campaigns/c36c85-covid-19-coronavirus. In addition, there are regular updates from the Chief Medical Officer.
Q. What about people who have Covid 19?
A. The epidemiological criteria are set out on the HSPC site, and begins with isolation in a single room, followed by risk assessment.
Q. Is the current hospital framework up to the job?
A. Dr Rory Dwyer, clinical lead of the Irish National Intensive Care Unit Audit, said last month that Intensive care units in public acute hospitals lack the resources to cope with a coronavirus epidemic. "You can cope with sporadic cases but if there is a large number we will struggle to cope and probably won’’t," he said.
Dr Dwyer also pointed out that we have fewer ICU beds per head of population than countries such as Britain and our EU counterparts, and the system has already been under strain due to typical winter illnesses.
However, the chair of the government’s coronavirus advisory group, Dr Cillian de Gascun, said on RTÉ’’s Morning Ireland that the Irish hospital system is “as prepared as it can be”, but it is under pressure.
On the same programme Tony Fitzpatrick of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said while efforts here so far were to be commended, it has been known since 2008 that there are not enough intensive care beds in the country. He also said the HSE’s hiring practices meant there were ICU beds and units that could not be used because vacant posts had not been filled.
Q. Does the patient end up in a single specialised room, or in their local hospital, or what?
A. Unclear. The HPSC advice to medical practitioners for patients with Covid 19 refers to "ADVICE available from the National Isolation Unit (NIU) as required (adults)". But it doesn’’t indicate that patients would use the NIU. Special coronavirus pods are already in use in the North
Q. Hang on, we’’ve got an NIU?
A. We do indeed. As per the last update to the website in February 2015, "the National Isolation Unit (NIU), for adult patients, is located at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Dublin (St. Bernard’s Ward)". It was officially opened in December 2008, the self-contained unit has 12 beds including six lobbied, en-suite single rooms with negative pressure ventilation. Two of the isolation rooms are of high specification and are separate from the rest of the unit with different air-handling systems.
Q. Has it ever been used?
A. It has been used as a test run and staff preparation exercise during the global Ebola virus crisis in 2014. Since then, it’’s uncertain; the HSE could not clarify as of now but said they would by Thursday. There are also isolation beds in other hospitals around the country.