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Wednesday 31 May 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid
# HSE briefing
Hospitals under 'relentless pressure' as at least 8,500 HSE staff absent due to Omicron
HSE Chief Paul Reid says there is “absolutely no doubt” that Covid case numbers are much higher than the daily recorded figures.

HSE CHIEF EXECUTIVE Paul Reid has said that Irish hospitals are under “relentless pressure” as over 8,500 HSE staff are currently absent due to the Omicron variant.

At a press briefing this afternoon, Reid said that there are huge staffing issues across the healthcare system as HSE staff are out sick with Covid-19 or restricting their movements as a close contact.

“From HSE perspective, we remain on kind of high alert in terms of the impacts, particularly that it’s [Omicron] having on the healthcare system overall, not just our hospitals,” said Reid.

“We are seeing literally persistent stress across the system overall, and particularly in the impacts of staff.”

There are approximately 8,500 healthcare workers out, including around 3,000 nurses and midwives as well as 1,500 health and social care staff.

However, there is no complete picture of the total number of staff out sick as current figures are based on a manual count carried out last week. He added that it could be double the manual count, and that 12.5% may be off work due to Covid-19.

Reid says that due to both staffing pressures and rising Covid-19 hospitalisations, there is “persistent pressure” being placed on the health service.

The HSE boss added that the level of absences were “very significant” compared to those witnessed in January last year.

The health service’s Chief Operations Officer, Anne O’Connor, told today’s briefing that staff absences are now affecting “everything we do”.

The current PCR testing capacity is 300,000 per week and there have been approximately 299,000 antigen tests booked through the new HSE portal.

According to Reid, there have been around 100,000 tests distributed by the HSE for symptomatic four to 49-year-olds so far.

The briefing was also told that 25% of all Covid-19 cases recorded in Ireland in the past 12 months have occurred since Christmas day.

While there are significant amounts of cases officially being reported through PCR tests, due to the high demand for testing, Reid says there is “absolutely no doubt” that a large amount of cases are being missed.

“There’s no doubt we haven’t seen the total volume that we’re seeing. There’s much more than what we’re seeing coming through in our daily published cases, absolutely no doubt” said Reid.

“When you see 60% positivity level in the community, you can make all the assumptions on what the volume is.

“I don’t think there is a definitive figure.”

The comments were echoed by HSE Chief Clinical Officer, Dr Colm Henry, who said that there may be one or two extra cases for every official case reported.

“There is no doubt that there’s under-ascertainment of cases… positivity rate of 60% in community referral is huge” said Henry.

“It may well be that for every case we’re picking up, maybe one or possibly even two more cases out there either through the fact that people are not symptomatic or for any other reason they’re not being picked up.

“That’s why the focus shifts, we get to this level on mitigation and on the individual responses that people must make, with or without tests.”

Henry said that the current advice for people who have Covid-19 symptoms is that they isolate and get tested if they can, and continue to isolate until at least 48 hours after symptoms have gone.

“That focus on a population level is what will break down transmission, not the testing alone.”

The HSE is also working on a system to allow people who tested positive on an antigen test –  but were unable to get a confirmatory PCR test – to register their infection.

ICU impact

While there has been an increase in Covid-19 hospitalisation in recent days, with 941 patients currently in hospital with a confirmed case of the virus, the HSE has not seen an increase in ICU numbers.

“Haven’t seen the severe impacts, certainly to date, as we would have seen in an equivalent period last year,” said Reid, but he said that despite the optimism, the health service does remain under pressure due to Omicron.

With reporting from Céimin Burke

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