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Varadkar's message to private hospitals: 'You need to make your doctors, nurses and ICU beds available in third wave'

The Tánaiste said there are around 300 beds, which he said can scale up with surge capacity to over 400.

Image: TOM HONAN

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said he expects private hospitals to step up and provide ICU bed capacity if the public system needs it.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, he said “we may well need” private ICU beds to deal with the third Covid-19 surge.

Private hospitals are an “important piece” in the fight against the virus, he said.

“We didn’t need them in the first wave or the second wave, we may well need them in this third wave,” he said, stating that the bones of an agreement with the private hospitals is being worked on.

When asked about reports that some private hospitals might be minded not to sign up to the deal, Varadkar said his message to those hospitals is:

“Our message is that you were available in the first wave, you made your hospitals and your staff available in the first wave. We paid for that, but we are grateful for it.

“It’s much more likely we’re going to need those private hospitals now. You need to make them available, your staff, your doctors and nurses. They understand medical ethics, and they’re going to want you to make your ICU capacity available to us.

“Ideally, making that available to us, so that we can move patients who don’t have Covid into those private hospital ICU beds is about freeing up our ICU is to focus on Covid.”

HSE boss Paul Reid said good progress has been made on an agreement with the private hospitals, stating that a number of private hospitals have signed up to the safety net agreement. He said they expect five more hospitals to sign up this week.

He urged private hospitals to work with them during the national crisis, adding “not to do so would be incomprehensible”.

Name and shame

Asked about whether private hospitals that fail to step up to provide capacity should be named and shamed, he said:

“You know, I don’t think that’s going to be necessary. Every single private hospital came on board back in the first wave and in those hospitals are doctors, nurses, therapists, people who dedicated their lives to saving lives, and on the boards of those hospitals, there are people who dedicated their lives to healthcare and saving lives. I’m absolutely confident that they will all make their facilities available,” he said.

On the issue of ICU capacity in the public hospitals, he said there are around 300 beds, which he said can scale up with surge capacity to over 400.

“I think we’re facing into into a very dark month of January. This is a third wave which could be much worse than the first,” he said, stating that they hope the numbers will peak in the next couple of days.

“But there’s no guarantee of that,” he added.

Varadkar said we won’t see the full impact on Irish hospitals and ICU capacity for “another couple of weeks”.

“So even in the most optimistic scenario, we’d see 1,500 people hospitalised with Covid at any one time, and it could be as high as 3,000 if we matched the kind of UK figures. It could be close to 3,000, but we’re hoping we’ll keep it to about 1,500 though.”

What is different to March and April is that we are much better prepared, said the Tánaiste.

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He said there are stockpiles of PPE, hundreds of ventilators and more ICU beds, as well as 6,000 more staff.

“We have a better idea now which treatments work, and which do not. But unfortunately, none of those things, prevent Covid, and that’s why we’re asking people to stay at home if at all possible to slow down this virus, and give us time to get the vaccine into the arms of our healthcare workers and vulnerable patients,” said Varadkar.

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