The public is now the frontline in fighting coronavirus, a top consultant in Cork has said, as she warned that staff are preparing for more difficult weeks ahead.
Cork University Hospital has taken the brunt of rising case numbers, caring for 159 patients with the virus yesterday morning.
The hospital's clinical lead for Covid-19 Dr Corinna Sadlier said: “Hospitalisations have increased rapidly since Christmas and have now surpassed the first and second wave. It's shocking to think we went from the lowest number of cases in Europe to the highest within a one-month period.”
And in common with doctors around the country, she called on the public to avoid meeting people outside their own household.
The consultant in acute medicine and infectious diseases said the large number of severely ill patients is challenging.
“We are seeing a wide range of patients — some young, but mainly those over 60 years with underlying medical conditions,” she said.
"It is a very difficult and frightening time for patients and their families."
The Chief Medical Officers in the Republic and the North have said they are "gravely concerned about the unsustainably high level" of Covid-19 infection on the island. | Read more: https://t.co/5fiFLzsYZ5 pic.twitter.com/eVjTA7kSCK— RTÉ News (@rtenews) January 15, 2021
The rising number of patients is from a mix between increased socialising recently and the impact of the new UK variant and cannot be put down to a single cause, she said.
Dr Sadlier praised all the Cork staff for their efforts, but she said the rising number of sick or isolating workers in all departments is piling on the pressure.
She described the staffing situation this week as “stretched” and said it has become impossible for healthcare workers to avoid the virus in the community as levels are now so high.
Many of her colleagues are sick with Covid-19 or isolating due to being a close contact.
“Staff are working extremely hard in a very challenging and stressful environment,” she said.
Dr Sadlier said no-one has yet found a cure for the virus, but treatment has advanced since the start of the pandemic.
“Care and outcomes for patients with Covid-19 have improved,” she said.
“This is in part due to clinical experience in managing this condition over the past number of months and in part due to advances in treatments.
“Dexamethasone, a steroid, has been shown to improve outcomes significantly for patients requiring oxygen therapy or critical care.”
Dr Sadlier was pessimistic about the immediate outlook, saying the community transmission is too high for the hospital situation to change quickly. For now, the best cure, she said, is prevention by avoiding catching the virus.
Meanwhile, the longer the pandemic goes on, the more medical staff worry about their non-Covid patients. Under level 5 — many urgent treatments, including for cancer and strokes or other emergencies — continue, but many patients have been too anxious to attend.
Dr Sadlier said: “Despite pressures, there are safe systems in place in the hospital and patients should come to the hospital for care if necessary or concerned.
“People should not ignore or delay seeking medical assessment or treatment for symptoms of serious conditions such as heart attack or stroke.”