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Taoiseach defends ICU capacity and says talk of a 'rundown health service' is 'overstated'

Martin was answering questions in the Dáil today.

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TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said that claims about Ireland’s health system being run down are “overly stated” and that it is ready for a potential second wave of Covid-19 cases. 

Speaking in the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions today, Martin said that the HSE “managed the first phase of the pandemic well within its capacity” and that more ICU beds have been added since. 

“This idea that, I think it’s been overly stated, about the system being rundown and so on, it has challenges of course, but it did manage the first phase of the pandemic well within its capacity. And the HSE are very clear that it has the capacity to deal with the current situation,” the Taoiseach said. 

Martin was answering questions from Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald TD and Independent TD Joan Collins about the government’s decision to move the country to Level 3 restrictions and not Level 5, as Nphet had advised

Both McDonald and Collins raised with the Taoiseach about increasing supports for workers and about the potential for the health service to cope with another surge of Covid-19 cases.

“Are you concerned at the lack of capacity in intensive care. Do you accept that we now need to urgently increase ICU capacity as we enter winter in this pandemic?,” Mc Donald asked the Taoiseach. 

In response, the Taoiseach said that more ICU beds have been created since the first phase of the pandemic and that more are due to come on stream. 

“A 25% increase. In March there were 225 ICU beds, we now have 282 fully staffed, that’s an extra 57 and there’ll be a further 17 in the winter plan,” the Taoiseach said. 

Martin added that more beds can be added should a Covid-19 surge occur:

If you look at the surge capacity that was achieved in the first phase, it went to 370 ICU beds and the HSE are saying they have the capacity. They are saying they have the capacity to deal with this.

As of today, the HSE has said that 243 of the 282 ICU beds in the State are occupied, with 23 of those relating to Covid-19 patients. There are also 147 other patients with Covid-19 in Irish hospitals. 

Referencing those figures, Collins said that it represents “a severe shortage of ICU beds” and that Ireland’s health service was in “a perilous state”.

In response, Martin said the reason why ICU bed occupancy is increasing is because the health service is continuing to function, while much of it paused during the first phase of the pandemic. 

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“The bottom line is a lot has been done since the first lockdown and since March in terms of a public service and acute services capacity. A lot has been done,” the Taoiseach said.

“And what’s increasingly happening is that non-Covid issues have been dealt with. And that’s why quite a substantial number of ICU beds have been used or predominantly been used for non-Covid purposes,” the Taoiseach said. 

Speaking elsewhere about the same issue, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the HSE is engaged with all of the private hospitals in the country “on two fronts” to try to secure capacity in the event of a Covid surge in the coming months.

The Department of Health has sanctioned up to €25 million to treat public patients in private hospitals temporarily pending a new arrangement. 

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Rónán Duffy

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