HSE Emergency Task Force will seek further public health advice

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The HSE Emergency Department Task Force is to write to HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly seeking further public advice amid concerns over rising Covid-19 cases.

The task force, co-chaired by HSE Chief Operating Officer Anne O Connor and INMO General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha, met on Monday.

A task force source said the meeting heard concerns about the impact of the current wave on hospitals as well as concerns about high levels of illness among staff.

It was agreed that a letter would be sent on Monday evening calling on the Minister and Mr Reid to re-evaluate current public health advice on the restrictions and seek expert advice, possibly from Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan.

“The message here was, Heuston, we have a problem. We want the CEO and the minister to make reasonable recommendations on how to handle this situation in a practical way. This is an urgent matter as patients’ lives are at stake,” a source said.

It is understood that officials expressed doubts during the meeting that the task force did not have the authority to send such a letter to the CEO and Minister, but it was agreed that it would be sent. .

The working group will meet again next week to review the government’s responses. The task force also includes trade unions, Ministry of Health officials and patient advocacy groups.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Reid said the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital was causing “tremendous stress” on the system, at more than 1,600.

Mr Reid renewed calls for the public to wear masks “appropriately”, as he said there was no indication of a downward trend in prevalence.

As of 8 a.m. Monday, there were 1,624 people with Covid-19 in hospitals, up from 1,569 on Saturday.

There have been 157 new admissions in the past 24 hours, with 59 discharges, according to data from the government’s Covid hub.

However, the number of patients in intensive care remained relatively stable, at 54.





Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in intensive care

1,624

54

The Department of Health has released the weekend’s Covid-19 case numbers. On Saturday, 7,754 PCR-confirmed cases were recorded, with 5,432 people registering a positive antigen test through the HSE’s online portal.

On Sunday, 6,940 PCR-confirmed cases were recorded, with 6,466 people recording a positive antigen test.

On Monday, the Health Protection Surveillance Center was notified of 5,263 PCR-confirmed cases.

The number of patients hospitalized with Covid has steadily increased in recent weeks, with the highly transmissible BA.2 variant of the virus having become dominant, now accounting for almost 95% of cases.

However, hospitalizations are generally higher on Monday mornings, due to delayed discharges on weekends.

Mr Reid said the number of Covid-positive patients in hospital “is causing enormous stress on the healthcare system”.

“We need to reverse this trend as soon as possible. [as soon as possible] and repeat doing the basics. Please wear your mask appropriately, report for your booster or primary vaccine, and isolate if [you have] symptoms,” he said on Twitter.

Mr Reid said the high number of cases gives ‘the impression that we are entering rather than leaving something’.

Experience from other countries in Europe has been that the current variant waned after some time, meaning Ireland was likely to deal with the current wave of the virus “until April”, a- he told RTÉ Radio One.

Institutional care systems have also been hit by the latest surge, with 67% experiencing outbreaks, making it difficult for patients to be discharged from acute care hospitals.

There have also been “very significant impacts for the more than 6,000 employees and clinical teams [of work] through the impact of Covid,” he said.

Emergencies

Dr Fergal Hickey, spokesman for the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, said the rubber band snapped due to pressure on the emergency services.

The situation is “probably the worst I have ever seen in my career”, he said, adding that hospitals are “overflowing” with Covid.

At Sligo General Hospital, where Dr Hickey works, there are currently six wards with Covid patients.

Virologist Gerald Barry expressed his support for the reintroduction of protective measures, such as mask-wearing, ventilation and good air quality.

“These new waves are the reality,” he told RTÉ’s Radio One, saying this was not a situation where society could “just sit back” and allow repeated waves of the virus to ” overwhelm us”.

Dr Barry said the BA.2 variant was the most infectious virus he had ever seen and that the easing of restrictions had created an environment that allowed it to spread.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Today with Claire Byrne on Monday, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said any decision to return to mandatory mask-wearing would require engagement between government and public health officials.

The vast majority of people wore masks even though they weren’t mandatory, she said, adding that she had noticed more and more people wearing face coverings while shopping.

Although wearing a mask is not mandatory at present “that does not mean that the situation will not change”, she said.

Government officials and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan have previously advised there is no need to reintroduce public health restrictions.


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