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CMO warns parents to keep sick kids at home while consultant says patients 'at risk' due to trolley crisis

A consultant in emergency medicine has warned of the impact of the pressures facing the healthcare system.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 4th 2023, 6:56 PM

THE CHIEF MEDICAL Officer has told parents to keep children with flu like symptoms home from school “if possible”. 

It comes as the government has said the number of hospitalisations from flu have more than doubled compared to before the coronavirus pandemic. 

As overcrowding in hospitals worsens, CMO Professor Breda Smyth urged parents to “be mindful of others” when their children are sick and to keep them home from school and childcare facilities if they are displaying new symptoms of illness.

She said that the re-opening of schools and childcare facilities this week creates an environment for increased respiratory virus transmission.

The HSE has said that they are seeing high levels of ‘flu and Covid-19 and although cases of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) appear to be decreasing, the three respiratory viruses accounted for more than 1,200 hospitalisations last week.

“As schools and childcare facilities re-open after the Christmas break, I am urging parents to be vigilant for symptoms of respiratory viruses in children,” Professor Smyth said.

“If your child has any new-onset flu-like symptoms such as congestion, cough, runny nose or high temperature, parents should continue to be mindful of others and, if possible, keep their children at home from school or childcare facilities,” she said. 

“Children should be kept at home for at least 48 hours after their symptoms have fully or substantially resolved,” the CMO added. 

“The vast majority of respiratory illnesses can be treated successfully at home with over-the-counter medication. There is very good advice on the HSE website undertheweather.ie. However, parents should trust their instincts and seek medical attention if required.”

The CMO also urged people to wear masks on public transport and in crowded places while also advising people to wash their hands regularly and give good ventilation.

Flu cases more than double 

At a briefing held today, the Government said flu cases are much higher than in previous years, with the number of people being hospitalised more than doubling compared to pre-Covid. 

Compared to 2019, there were 2,331 lab confirmed cases of flu identified up to Christmas week. This is in contrast to 1,000 cases in 2019.

Of the 2,331 cases, a total of 637 people hospitalised which compared to 350 people on past figures. 

The government said it will extend hours for GPs and clinics over the coming days in response to the surging cases. 

It said increased funding for out of hours GP services and an increased use of overtime will also be deployed, while Health Minister Stephen Donnelly will ask the HSE to “source all available capacity from private hospitals”. 

Donnelly today updated the Government regarding flu, RSV and Covid numbers in hospitals.

A significant number of older patients are presenting at hospitals compared to 2019, as 191,038 over 75s attended ED up to late last month – a 14% increase compared to pre-Covid. 

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, General Secretary of the INMO, yesterday called on the Government to “make difficult decisions including the return of mandated mask-wearing in congregated settings”.

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One, Donnelly said he discussed mask wearing with the INMO yesterday.

“I discussed it with the Chief Medical Officer yesterday following the conversation with the INMO. And Professor Smyth’s view is at the moment she would not be minded to recommend mandated masks,” Donnelly said. 

“However, what the CMO has said and what I certainly would reiterate is there’s already important advice around mask wearing in place – public transport, indoor crowded settings and healthcare,” he said. 

“I would certainly encourage all of your listeners to follow that advice.”  

The CMO said that the flu season has not yet peaked and said that there is still time for people to take the vaccine against the annual illness. 

“As we are still in the middle of flu season, I am appealing to parents to please consider the ‘flu vaccine for your child. It’s a nasal spray and is administered free of charge by GPs and pharmacists,” Professor Smyth said. 

“I would also encourage people to keep up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines and please make an appointment for a booster if you are eligible,” she added. 

Meanwhile, Donnelly, speaking to reporters outside Beaumont Hospital last night, told reporters that he had visited two hospital EDs in Dublin yesterday. 

He said he believed it was unacceptable that some people are sleeping on floors and waiting in chairs for a bed.

Donnelly added he would be meeting with senior HSE officials on Friday.

“But what I’m hearing this week, what I was hearing last week, and what I’m hearing here today and then in Vincent’s today, is that the flu wave is very severe, it’s hit earlier than it normally would,” the Health Minister said. 

“In spite of unprecedented additional public capacity we put in, and we will continue to add that, this perfect storm of Covid, RSV, the flu, unfortunately has put pressure on us here in Ireland, in the UK as well.”

Donnelly said the pressure on hospitals “is likely to get worse” as the HSE does not believe that the flu wave has yet peaked.

Lives at risk

Earlier, an emergency medicine consultant warned that lives are at risk in Irish hospitals due to unprecedented levels of overcrowding.

931 patients were without beds yesterday morning, the highest number recorded since records began.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Peadar Gilligan, a consultant at Beaumont Hospital, said the health service simply does not have the number of beds it needs to cope with demand.

“We know from the research that’s been done internationally that preventable death does occur in the context of major overcrowding, and certainly Ireland is experiencing major overcrowding,” he said.

The short answer is anywhere that’s working above 100% capacity is not safe and it’s not as safe as it should be.

“We know from the research that has been done both in Ireland and internationally, we know that there are delays to receiving antibiotic therapy for those with infection, there are delays to recognition of and treatment of heart attack in those patients suffering, there are delays to the treatment of stroke, because essentially, it takes longer for the doctor to be able to be in a position to see that patient because there isn’t an available clinical space.”

Gilligan added that although extra beds have been added to the system in recent years, it falls short of what is required.

He recommended that patients be moved out of emergency departments and on to wards: “It’s safer to move one to two additional patients to each ward in the hospital, rather than treat the emergency department as though it has rubber walls.”

The health service is coming under an increasing amount of pressure due to the number of patients presenting with respiratory viruses.

While Covid and RSV are significant factors, officials have singled out influenza as being of particular concern, with cases increasing rapidly and no clear indication of when they might peak.

University Hospital Limerick has come under particular pressure, with a major incident being declared on Monday due to the number of patients presenting.

With additional reporting from Niall O’Connor, Hayley Halpin, Garreth MacNamee and Press Association.

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