THE Taoiseach has told the HSE to immediately deploy all available resources, including the potential use of private hospitals, to address mounting winter pressures within Ireland’s health system.
Leo Varadkar, who had a scheduled meeting with HSE management on Friday, said overtime should also be used to minimise the suffering and inconvenience to patients.
Mr Varadkar said several factors had created the pressures on the hospital system, including an ageing population, the need to treat conditions that had gone undiagnosed during the Covid pandemic, and the circulation of three viruses within the population – cold, flu and RSV.
The Taoiseach insisted the Government had made preparations for a sharp increase in patients over the winter months and highlighted that almost 1,000 additional hospital beds were available compared with two years ago.
“We’ve never had more doctors, nurses, midwives working in the health service,” Mr Varadkar told reporters in Dublin.
“We’ve never had a bigger budget, but this is happening against the backdrop of a rising aging population, a huge amount of unmet need – people who didn’t get health care during the pandemic whose illnesses are now becoming apparent or have got worse, and then, of course, the presence of three viruses.
“Whatever can be done should be done to minimise suffering and inconvenience to patients over the winter period and indeed beyond.” He added: “No matter how well you prepare, we’re still going to be under a lot of pressure, as indeed will be the case across Europe and across the northern hemisphere this winter.” Mr Varadkar said there was no current plan to reintroduce compulsory mask wearing in Ireland but he did encourage people to wear masks in crowded places, especially on public transport.
The Taoiseach urged people with respiratory symptoms to remain at home until it passed. He also encouraged those eligible for flu and Covid vaccines to come forward.
Ireland’s hospitals are also dealing with cases linked to the Strep A bacterial infection.
Seven people, including four children, have died this year with invasive group A streptococcal (iGAS).
The deaths of the four children all occurred since the beginning of October.
Commenting on the Strep A situation, a HSE spokeswoman said: “It is not appropriate to compare this year’s rates with those of 2020 or 2021 as most infectious disease incidence rates were reduced due to pandemic measures. It is more appropriate to compare to pre-pandemic iGAS rates specified below.
“In 2018 there were 11 iGAS deaths, two of whom were children. In 2019 there were eight iGAS deaths, two of whom were children.
“The pattern and trends of iGAS cases are slightly different this year and the situation is being monitored closely.
“Overall, the numbers of iGAS deaths, including paediatric deaths, are very small and the current situation is not discernibly different from the pre-pandemic years. This is not outside what we would expect.”