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'The system remains under pressure': HSE continues to advise staying away from hospitals with flu symptoms

University Hospital Kerry will be cancelling all elective surgery for this week due to high patient numbers.

File photo outside University Hospital Galway.
File photo outside University Hospital Galway.
Image: Brian Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Updated Jan 7th 2020, 11:10 AM

PEOPLE ARE STILL being advised to stay away from hospitals if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms as the HSE warns of a possible second flu peak. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning, the HSE national director of acute operations Liam Woods said when this morning’s hospital figures are released, they will likely show that “the system remains under very significant pressure”. 

“It’s not the same problem year on year, it’s a growing problem and the right response… is that we invest in community services to keep people at home and support people staying at home,” said Woods.  

“It’s very important that we’re very clear that hospitals are operating and will provide services to sick people. That’s the job of a hospital.” 

University Hospital Kerry announced today it will be cancelling all elective surgery for this week due to high numbers of patients presenting with flu. 

This decision will be reviewed on Thursday with regard to next week’s elective surgery. All cancellations will be given a new appointment as soon as possible, the hospital said in a statement today.

Strict visiting restrictions have been introduced, much like in other hospitals around the country, to prevent further spread of flu. 

Woods said the HSE believes the flu has peaked in the last couple of weeks, but “there is always the risk of a second peak and our population health doctors will flag that”.

“It is still very worthwhile to vaccinate,” he advised.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said there were 760 patients waiting for admission to a bed yesterday, a new record figure which surpassed that of March 2018.

Woods said 199 extra beds are being put in hospitals at the moment, with 54 in place by next week. More beds will be added to hospitals in Waterford, Drogheda and Clonmel in the coming weeks. 

He said it was “positive but not sufficient” to put these new beds in place due to the “growing demand for service”. 

“Expanding capacity in the hospital system is a key objective in terms of being able to deal with the surge that’s required for flu,” said Woods.  

He said that daycare and stay surgeries are “now restricted if not cancelled, depending on the pressure on individual sites”.  

Cork cancellations 

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has said yesterday’s decision to cancel all elective surgery at hospitals in Cork will have knock-on effects for health outcomes for patients. 

President of the IHCA, Donal O’Hanlon, said the decision is “simply not acceptable”. 

“It is forcing hospitals and the consultants who treat patients to determine which patient is more worthy of treatment,” said O’Hanlon in a statement this morning. 

“Cancelling essential surgery cannot even credibly be presented as a solution to the ongoing lack of capacity and overcrowding at our acute public hospitals.

Describing it as a solution suggests it is solving a problem when in truth, it is removing access to surgery for patients with very complex needs.

Liam Woods from the HSE said this morning: “For our major hospitals we do have to prioritise urgent surgeries.”

“Surgery that’s planned in week one and two in a year is lower but we do continue to do trauma surgery and essential elective surgery,” he said.    

The HSE apologised to patients for the high level of overcrowding in A&E departments across the country yesterday. 

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Several hospitals have enforced restrictions or bans on visitors due to the flu season. 

Visiting has been banned at UHL until further notice as the hospital continues to manage high volumes of patient with flu, some of whom have been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. 

The visiting ban includes the Emergency Department at UHL with the exception of people visiting patients who are at end-of-life, critically ill and confused patients who may have dementia, for example. Parents visiting paediatric patients are also exempt.

The HSE said yesterday the flu season arrived up to four weeks earlier than last year which has led to a “significant surge in patient demand”. 

The current flu season has led to the death of 22 people so far, 17 of whom were aged 65 years and older.

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