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HSE boss Reid says 'stable' ICU numbers are encouraging for hospital system

Paul Reid said the Omicron variant is still having a significant impact on the health service.

HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid
HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid
Image: Leah Farrell

HSE CHIEF EXECUTIVE Paul Reid says it’s “really encouraging” that the amount of people in intensive care units with Covid-19 has remained stable, despite the recent unprecedented wave of infections. 

Speaking at a press briefing this afternoon, Reid said there’s now “plenty of evidence” that the Omicron variant is not as severe as previous coronavirus strains.

However, he cautioned that the volume of cases is still having a significant impact on the health service and is causing high levels of staff absences, with an estimated 15,000 staff out due to contracting Covid-19 or being a close contact.

Reid said the significant staff shortage due to the virus is like “tackling this wave with one arm tied behind our back”.

“The volume of the cases and the pace of the rise of the cases over the last few weeks continues to put a strain on our healthcare services, in terms of getting to the wider demands that are coming at them,” said Reid.

“Almost 15,000 of our workforce is out. It is really like tackling this wave with one arm tied behind our back,

“Obviously we do expect to see it improve over the next while.”

The HSE’s chief operations officer, Anne O’Connor, said “the more Covid cases we have the less we can do of other things… the only control we have is to not book elective care.”

Over 230,000 cases have been recorded in the last two weeks, meaning 26% of all Covid cases in Ireland in the last 12 months have occurred since 1 January. The briefing was told that one in every 16 people have had a positive PCR in the past 14 days.

Dr Colm Henry said the high case numbers “speak for themselves” but added that the numbers of people in intensive care has levelled off and said the ICU situation is “not nearly as hot as it was in January 2021″, when over 2,000 were in hospital and over 200 were in ICU.

Under new guidance from the government, close contacts who do not have symptoms and who have received a booster jab will not need to restrict their movements, starting tomorrow.

Hospitalisations

There are currently 1,011 people in hospital with a confirmed case of Covid-19, of whom 92 are in intensive care.

Reid has said that current ICU numbers have remained stable in recent days and that this is an encouraging sign for the health service.

“Our ICU numbers have remained stable, which is really encouraging for us, and we haven’t had to go into surge capacity on our ICU,” said Reid.

Of the 1,011 people in hospital with a confirmed case of Covid-19, 40% of patients have not received any Covid-19 vaccination. Of the 92 people in ICU, Reid says that at least 48% have not been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, but that this figure could be closer to 50%.

Of the 1,011 people hospitalised, 30% were admitted for non-Covid treatment but were later identified as positive cases. In comparison to Delta, only 10% of people hospitalised were admitted for non-Covid treatment but found to be positive.

He also said that the number of patients requiring non-invasive ventilation is “significantly” down from previous waves of Covid-19, with just over 100 people currently requiring that treatment.

However, while he did say that the Omicron variant appeared to be a milder disease than previous variants if a person is presenting in hospital with Covid-19, they need “high medical attention”.

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“If you are sick and hospitalized with Covid, you are there because you are in need of high medical attention.”

He added that the average length of stay for those hospitalised has remained the same as previous waves of the virus.

Testing capacity

According to Damien McCallion, the HSE national lead on vaccinations, testing and tracing, there is now a capacity to provide 300,000 PCR tests a week, alongside a capacity to send out 600,000 antigen tests a week.

McCallion also said that the strain that was seen on the PCR testing system over Christmas has begun to ease in recent days, in particular around GP referrals dropping slightly.

The new portal to register antigen tests is set to launch tomorrow, with people able to log positive results and upload their close contacts to the new system. This will then notify any close contacts via text.

McCallion said that over 800 contact tracing staff are to be trained today and tomorrow on the new system.

- Additional reporting by Céimin Burke at Dr Steeven’s Hospital

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