Covid-19 is placing the health service under immense pressure and “the system is overloaded" according to the country’s largest union for nurses and midwives.
The latest warning comes as the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) claims 7,000 HSE staff are no longer able to work due to Covid-19 reasons and that 2,500 healthcare workers per week are contracting the virus.
“The message from our members is very clear. The system is overloaded and they cannot cope.
“The consequences are increasingly clear - our frontline members are paying the price,” said emergency department nurse and INMO president, Karen Mc Gowan.
The union has called for upgrades in personal protective equipment (PPE) made available to staff and higher safety standards including “ an end to policy allowing asymptomatic close contacts” returning to work. FFP2 masks need to be provided to healthcare workers, it said.
According to the union, private hospital capacity needs to be fully nationalised to ease the strain on public hospitals as current government policy to use only a third is not enough.
“This is a national emergency. It should be treated as such. The public health service was not fit for purpose before the pandemic – it is now under a level of pressure not seen before.
“We are at the point where staff are not able to cope. There are huge numbers of very sick patients, with 7,000 HSE staff now out for Covid reasons. Over 2,500 healthcare workers a week are getting the virus,” said INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha.
The union has called for a date to be set for when all healthcare staff will be vaccinated and that prioritisation for frontline staff to be continued. Pay for nursing students and interns facing high levels of Covid-19 risk needs to be given, the union added.
The INMO general secretary said childcare is required for workers with schoolchildren to help with staff numbers.
“It is beyond time to nationalise all private hospital capacity and to provide childminding for healthcare workers with children.
“Similarly, we cannot ask students to take on more work at the expense of learning, for no or low pay,” she said.
Currently, there are 1,750 people with the virus in hospital and 158 people are in intensive care as the country’s health service grapples with the third wave of Covid-19.
The HSE’s chief clinical officer, Dr Colm Henry has warned that even if the number of Covid cases starts to decline, the pressure on hospitals would likely continue for some time.