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St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin. Mark Stedman
On the rise

'Not too late to get vaccinated': Swine flu can be 'very dangerous', warns minister

A significant increase in cases of the H1N1 strain has been reported.

SWINE FLU HAS returned this winter, according to Health Minister Simon Harris, who urged those with symptoms to stay away from hospitals if possible. 

The surge in flu numbers, which was predicted last week, comes as 541 patients are waiting for beds this morning, according to today’s INMO Trolley Watch.

According to the figures, 392 are waiting in the emergency department, while 149 are in wards elsewhere in the hospital.

Speaking after a briefing by the HSE’s Winter Plan Oversight Group, the minister said there has been a significant increase in cases of the H1N1 strain reported at hospitals in recent days.

Also known as swine flu, Harris warned that it “can be very dangerous”, particularly to at risk groups such as pregnant women. 

“We did say a surge would come, it has come, and we are doing as much as we can to manage it,” he said. 

Swine flu “very effectively responds” to the flu vaccination which is currently on offer, said the minister, who urged members of the public as well as health care professionals to avail of it.

“It is not too late to get vaccinated and the good news is that the vaccination is very effective in relation to this strain of flu,” said Harris.

“We are entering a challenging period, as we knew we always would. The figures remain better then they were last year and we continue to do all that we possibly can to help the health service and I would again repeat my call to citizens to help support front-line staff by keeping our emergency departments for emergencies.”

HSE officials warned that the numbers are set to rise in the coming days as children return to school, colleges reopen and people return to work after the Christmas break. 

While there has been a rise in the numbers in the last few days, the figures are considerably lower on last year, which Harris said was particularly challenging. 

In order to ease some of the strain on services, the minister said that close to 500 home care packages were approved before Christmas, with 246 having already commenced. 

For the first time also, the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) is being used for diagnostics this winter. 

Harris said of course there is far too many people on hospital trolleys, but the numbers are down on last year, he added. However, he said this is of no comfort to those currently in hospital. He urged the HSE prioritise isolation in hospitals to contain the spread of flu. 

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