There were no critical care beds available in Cork hospitals on Tuesday for the second day in a row, according to the HSE’s own figures.
The HSE’s daily update showed that, on Monday, no critical beds were free in Cork and there were just five general beds available between Cork University Hospital and the Mercy.
On Tuesday, no critical beds were available once more and the number of general beds had dropped to just two.
The latest HSE information also shows that two cases of Covid-19 were confirmed at Cork University Hospital yesterday.
A spokesperson for the HSE said each hospital has a surge plan for the management and placement of critical care patients if and when demand exceeds fixed capacity.
“In the event of such a surge, critical care capacity may be scaled up as needed.
“Additional capacity will be delivered under winter plan 20/21,” she added.
The current lack of capacity is down to decades of hospital bed shortages, according to a veteran consultant in Cork.
Dr Chris Luke, consultant in emergency medicine, said the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic saw rapid expansion of critical care facilities — but that decades of bed shortages have not been reversed in the past six months.
“Covid has driven expansion but nonetheless we’re still short dozens of beds and dozens of specialist nurses,” he said.
“I would imagine we’re short one or two dozen critical care beds in Cork alone and we’re probably short 50 to 100 nationally, at an estimate.
“We have a longstanding shortage which isn’t as bad as it was in March, thanks to HSE investment in beds and staff, but it’s still evident as a result of years of shortages.
“We’ve had a capacity issue for decades, certainly going back to the early ’90s when there was a significant cull of hospital beds based on dubious health forecasts at the time,” Dr Luke said.
“We’ve never recovered from that. Nationally, we’re short around 4,000 to 10,000 general beds.” He emphasised the importance of curbing the spread of Covid-19.
“Given the exponential rise in cases and chronic shortage of critical care and general beds within the health service, level three is where we need to be,” he said.
“I understand people are tired of Covid but imagine how health workers feel.” Meanwhile, Dr Margaret O’Sullivan, specialist in public health, HSE South, urged people to stay home if they experience symptoms and to contact their GP, and to stay home if they are awaiting test results, if they are deemed to be a close contact of someone with the virus, or if they received a positive test result.