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HSE's Dr Colm Henry: 'We’re heading into a difficult winter, there’s no doubt about that'

However, he said situation in the health system is “different” than last year.

Dr Colm Henry
Dr Colm Henry
Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

HSE CHIEF CLINICAL Officer Dr Colm Henry has said he is “worried” about the country’s health system this coming winter. 

There were concerns among members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) earlier this week about a rise in Covid-19 case rates. 

There were 1,914 cases of Covid-19 confirmed yesterday evening with the total number of cases in the past seven days up by 33% on the previous week.

Currently, fewer than 10% of the adult population is unvaccinated, but those who have not been vaccinated make up about half of those hospitalised with Covid-19 and two- thirds of those in ICU.

When asked today whether it is justified for there to be “high anxiety” around the increase of Covid-19 cases, Henry told RTÉ Radio One’s Brendan O’Connor that “things are different” and “we’re in a much better position” that previous surges because of the protection from vaccines and the “extraordinary” uptake rate from Irish people.

Henry was asked whether he was confident the health system wouldn’t be overwhelmed this winter, to which he said: “We’re heading into a difficult winter, there’s no doubt about that.” 

However, he said situation in the health system is “different” than last year. 

“Last year we configured our health system almost to be a Covid-only healthcare system. Now we’re delivering acute care, unscheduled care, we’re trying to catch up on waiting lists, we’re trying to restore normal services and catch up on all of that lost activity,” Henry said. 

“We’re running a Covid-configured service because our Emergency Department still need to be mindful that anyone coming in with a fever or cough could have Covid. But the risk in terms of the numbers of Covid cases translating through to hospitalisations is greatly weakened,” he said, adding:

“I am worried about the health service [this winter] because we’re delivering a Covid-configured service.” 

‘Panic button’ 

Yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Covid-19 situation “has changed” but that there’s “a variety of options” to look at ahead of a decision on the lifting of remaining restrictions. 

A number of meetings are due to be held over the coming days ahead of a decision on whether to lift all remaining restrictions on 22 October. 

The call by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for people to try work from home where possible has also been criticised. 

Dr. Ronan Glynn suggested people should “work from home where possible this autumn and winter”, which the Taoiseach quickly clarified yesterday, saying that the Government’s position had not changed despite the advice. 

Co-leader of the Social Democrats, Róisín Shortall said it’s an example of “mixed messaging” from health and government authorities. 

“The Government and NPHET really need to get the messages very clear for people,” she told Katie Hannon on RTÉ Radio One, saying that rapid antigen tests would be useful for unvaccinated people. 

Speaking to reporters in Cork yesterday, the Taoiseach said that he agrees with the assessment of HSE CEO Paul Reid that “it’s not a case of pressing the panic button”. 

“The situation has changed in relation to the disease, of that there is no doubt, and we’re going to have to take that on board in terms of decisions we take next week,” the Taoiseach said. 

He added that vaccines have “transformed the environment totally” and that the country is “in a much different position now” compared to last year because vaccinations are preventing hospitalisations. 

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Martin said that the government’s position on the return to workplaces “hasn’t changed” after Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn suggested people should “work from home where possible this autumn and winter”.

Since 20 September, it has essentially been for businesses and employees to determine whether presence at the workplace is required and to engage in “a staggered and phased return” if presence is required. 

With reporting by Rónán Duffy and Cónal Thomas

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