Losing hospital workers to Covid sick leave or absenteeism will pile pressure onto emergency departments as other access pathways to healthcare close, a Cork expert in emergency care has warned.
Dr Chris Luke, veteran consultant in emergency medicine, explained that access pathways to health services will close if there is not enough staff to keep them open, and that patients will be forced to turn towards the emergency department (ED).
Dr Luke explained that any loss of staff will “pile more pressure” onto EDs.
“The whole reason for emergency department overcrowding is that other access portals close,” he said.
“When all the other portals of access to hospitals close, the ED remains open.
“I’ve heard someone say ‘if all else fails, there’s always A&E’ - that mantra and attitude is the reason why EDs are always overcrowded,” he added.
“One by one by one, all the other services close whether it’s general practice, outpatient clinics, outpatient scans then people pitch up in A&E in the hope of getting the scan or test they need.
“At this exact moment in time, the last thing we want is emergency department overcrowding.”
HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid said this week that anxiety and fear is rising among healthcare management.
Dr Luke said a similar anxiety was felt by healthcare workers just before the peak of the pandemic more than six months ago.
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Reid said senior staff within the HSE and a number of hospital CEOs are “extremely anxious about what lies ahead, particularly in November”.
The HSE chief also said that these senior staff have voiced concerns over the level of staff absenteeism in the coming weeks and months.
Speaking to The Echo, Dr Chris Luke said this current scenario is reminiscent of the period leading up to the pandemic peak in March and April.
“Absenteeism was a huge problem in the health service at that point, understandably due to the anxiety and fear among workers,” he said.
“There was anxiety about the disease itself, about resources, capacity and space and not having that.
“It must be a worry with reports of concerns from senior medical staff, rumours of absenteeism, and if alternative pathways into the health service close down, it inevitably leads to more overcrowding in emergency departments,” he added.
“The truth is that there was a surge in absenteeism back in March and April.
“This new story of increased absenteeism now sounds like we may be seeing that again.”