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winter surge

Surge in viruses seen in the Mid-West as some people contract more than one virus

Public Health Mid-West said it has seen a “noticeable increase” in adults.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 10th 2023, 11:20 AM

A SURGE IN viruses has been recorded in the mid-west region with some people having more than one virus.

Mid-West Public Health said respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) continues to circulate widely in the community, after seeing “nearly 300 cases in the past four weeks” across Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary.

The lead hospital in the region, University Hospital Limerick, has been the most overcrowded in recent weeks.

It comes as the nurses union has called for stronger advice on mask-wearing while warning that the country’s smaller hospitals are starting to see a “higher number” of patients on trolleys which it said is having a “devastating” impact.

“While RSV mainly affects children, aged 0-4, we have seen a noticeable increase in infections in adults. Continued, sustained socialising in the lead up to Christmas, and household gatherings during the holidays is likely to have led to this wave of infection,” Mid-West Public Health posted on social media.

“If you have symptoms of a cold or flu, do not socialise or attend work until you are feeling well, or are symptom-free for 48 hours.

“We are expecting to see increases in respiratory diseases, which will place further pressure on our health services.”

Dr Maria Casey, a consultant at Mid-West Public Health, told RTÉ Radio One that they are seeing more people attending GPs and then a&e as well . . . this obviously makes ppl more ill and more likely to present to health services”.

The news comes as 534 patients are without beds in Irish hospitals today. 

According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), there must be stronger public health advice around mandated mask-wearing amid the surge in RSV and other respiratory illnesses. 

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the Chief Medical Officer needed to issue stronger advice on mask-wearing to the public. 

“It is or view that it is the responsible thing for policymakers and Government to do at this vital juncture when hospitals are not coping and people’s lives are at a higher risk.

“We know that there is a surge in the spread of RSV, particularly in the Midwest. Our hospitals, especially those in the Midwest and on the Western seaboard, cannot sustain additional pressure from avoidable illnesses,” Ní Sheaghdha said.

“It is time for stronger advice on simple and inexpensive measures such as mask-wearing and handwashing.

“It shouldn’t be this difficult to issue strong advice in this regard when we are being warned about rising cases of flu, RSV and new COVID variants.”

Nursing homes

Meanwhile, the national body for nursing homes has compiled a list of approximately 760 available beds across its members to assist the HSE with the trolley crisis.

It is hoped the measure will allow more than 200 hospital patients across the country to transfer into the nursing homes and free up room in the hospitals.

Tadgh Daly of Nursing Homes Ireland has outlined that following a survey of members,  there are 760 beds are available across around 200 nursing homes. 

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One earlier, he said “my understanding is that up to 60-65% of that 500-plus are determined as requiring long term care” and so would benefit from the nursing homes. 

He added that the move “needs to be expedited”, as the overcrowding crisis continues across hospitals. 

“There are significant numbers of beds across the private and voluntary nursing home sector that are available for use as as we speak,” he told Morning Ireland.

“So we have met with the HSE again yesterday and last evening, we provided the HSE with that full list of all of the homes who responded to our survey across the country.

“And I understand that the HSE now will be contacting our members today through the local community healthcare organisations to expedite transfer of those in hospital who should be out in the community effectively.”

It is the latest such measure being pursued to address record-breaking overcrowding at hospitals, with one pilot aiming to alleviate overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) launched yesterday, allowing non-critical patients in the midwest region to be brought directly to Ennis Hospital instead of UHL’s emergency department.

Daly said there will always be beds available in the private and voluntary sector which should be bought by the HSE for overcrowding, citing how University Hospital Waterford has struck a deal with an off-site nursing home to hold beds for patients requiring long-term care. 

“It was a lifesaver,” he said.

Similarly, INMO boss Ní Sheaghdha said the HSE “must insist that hospitals follow the lead” of sites like UHW in ensuring that all measures that can be taken to “drastically reduce overcrowding are implemented”.

“We know that we will be seeing continued pressure on our acute hospital system until the end of February at the very least,” she added.

She noted that while numbers waiting on trolleys have decreased over the past week, we are now seeing “high numbers of patients on trolleys in some of our smaller hospitals”, which she was is having a “devastating” impact.

“There must be no relaxation of the curtailment of non-elective care at this point.

“National agreements have been brokered since 2016 to maintain patient and staff safety in our emergency departments. It is clear that this is not being honoured in many hospital sites at this time,” the union leader added.

Complex needs

When asked on RTÉ whether nursing homes have the capability to care for complex needs, Daly said the board of nursing homes will do a “pre-admission assessment in the hospital” for any patient transferring from the HSE.

“Clearly the age profile, the dependency of those now in nursing homes – with majority over 85 – the average length of stay is less than two years now. So the complexity of care in nursing homes is very, very high.

“That’s a testament to the professionalism and the expertise within the nursing home sector and the gerontological nurses who lead the care in the nursing homes.” 

He added: “We want to work collaboratively with the HSE and indeed, the Department of Health to ensure that there’s visibility of where those beds are available. And to work, in terms of timely transfer.

“You know, communicating with families is hugely important, and obviously communicating with the residents so that they have a choice in terms of where they wish to live.” 

The HSE has been contacted for comment.

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