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'A real concern': A third of patients with Covid-19 in hospital contracted the virus while on wards, says Tánaiste

‘They didn’t come in Covid positive, they picked up Covid while in the hospital,’ said Leo Varadkar.

Varadkar says there is concern about the numerous outbreaks in hospital settings and nursing homes.
Varadkar says there is concern about the numerous outbreaks in hospital settings and nursing homes.

AS MANY AS a third of patients with Covid-19 in hospital contracted the virus while being cared for in the hospital, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said. 

The Tánaiste said the situation in Irish hospitals is “very serious”.

Currently, there are 1,949 confirmed cases in hospital, with 219 in ICU.

While these numbers are beginning to fall, Varadkar said it is not happening “at the pace we would like”.

There are “real concerns” about the clusters emerging in Irish hospitals, he said, adding:

“We know that nursing home clusters and hospital clusters are numerous. There’s a lot of them. Most deaths sadly occur in nursing homes and hospitals.

“And indeed, it seems that as many as a third of patients in hospital got Covid in hospital, they didn’t come in Covid positive, they picked up Covid while in the hospital. Now some of them may not be sick as a result, they may be sick for a different reason.

“But it still is a matter of real concern that so many people are acquiring Covid in our hospitals.”

Clusters in hospitals 

The most recent letter to the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly from the Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan, dated 14 January, states that at that point there had been 182 deaths notified with a date of death in January.

Of the 182 deaths in January, 23 had been associated with hospital outbreaks and 38 had been associated with nursing home outbreaks.

Holohan said in the letter that there were 17 new clusters notified in acute hospitals in the first week of 2021, adding that there were currently 101 open clusters associated with 42 acute hospitals. 

He said there have been 91 linked deaths and 1,153 linked cases to these outbreaks.

Holohan said in the letter that there were 132 open clusters associated with nursing homes, of which there had been 91 linked deaths and 1,690 linked cases.

As of today, there have been 483 deaths of people with Covid-19 in January so far. That compares to 173 Covid-19 deaths in December, 163 in November, 120 in October and 36 in September.

In the Dáil today, Independent TD Denis Naughten what was being done to prevent the outbreaks in hospitals. 

He said there has been a marked increase in hospital outbreaks, stating that these serve as “reservoirs for infection of vulnerable people in our hospitals, and sources of new infections in our communities”.

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Outbreak teams

He asked about mass testing in hospital settings, telling the Tánaiste that the HSE response to these concerns was that decisions to mass test are being taken locally by the hospital, which seeks advice from the local public health department and with the involvement nationally from senior HSE management “only where necessary”.

“So in plain English, the buck stops with nobody,” said Naughten.

“We have stagnation, leading to hospitals being a reservoir for Covid infection. We will never get our infection rate down unless we address this lack of leadership.”

He said in December it was suggested that a national outbreak control team be set up to ensure consistency of approach nationally to addressing hospital outbreaks and engagement in mass testing.

Varadkar said he did not know whether such a group had been established, but would ask the health minister 

The Tánaiste added: “I think it’s fair to say that we’re nowhere near where we need to be at present to lift Level 5 restrictions.” 

During Leaders’ Questions, he was also asked about international travel and mandatory quarantine. He confirmed that the government’s approach is working, stating that no such move for mandatory quarantine would be considered unless the UK moved towards that system, adding that otherwise it would be unworkable.

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