An emergency medicine consultant has said the Delta variant will add more pressure to already overwhelmed emergency departments.
Dr Fergal Hickey called on the HSE to create “alternative pathways” for patients presenting with conditions that were not strictly emergencies.
“Many emergency departments over the last three to four weeks have set new records for daily attendance. Given that these are new records, they're actually higher than the level we would expect to see over the winter period," he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
“If you add the effect of the Delta variant to that, that's going to make it even more difficult - at the moment we cannot achieve social distancing in most emergency departments, it's simply impossible as a result of the numbers and therefore the situation is dangerous.
“It will just become more dangerous if we have more patients arising from the Delta variant.”
Dr Hickey explained that there were four categories of patients who present at emergency departments, two categories were acutely unwell patients or people who had been injured. There were two further categories – people who had “run out of road,” who had not been able to access a GP and those who had been referred by a GP as they could not offer them treatment because of the pandemic.
For those who have a problem that was untreated as a result of the pandemic, the HSE needed to look at creating alternative pathways for those patients because the option of sending someone self presenting to the emergency department really did not solve the problem, he said. “They need to look at that.”
Dr Hickey added that another way to ease pressure on emergency departments was for “maximum possible vaccination.” He cautioned that there were some people who thought they would not be impacted by Covid.
“We know that 10 percent of those who suffer from Covid end up with this condition Long Covid, which is both very debilitating for patients, but also will have a massive impact on the health service down the road.”
People needed to follow the advice from the beginning of the pandemic, wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your distance, he said. “They're more important than ever, it seems ludicrous that our nearest neighbour across the water that they're deciding to ignore all this science and basically return themselves to what they would consider to be normal.”
Monaghan GP Dr Illona Duffy has also warned that the growing number of Covid cases in recent weeks will put pressure on hospital services.
Speaking on Newstalk radio, Dr Duffy said her own practice had noticed a definite increase, going from no cases for two months, to three positive cases in the past week.
“Already this week we've had three – we're definitely seeing a rise in the number of people who are ringing us and requiring testing, they've got Covid-type symptoms. We're also aware that many patients are self-referring, they're going online and registering or they're walking into the test centres.
“Clearly people themselves are concerned and worried that they may have Covid. We're also hearing more stories and having contact from more patients who have been advised that they are close contacts of positive cases.”
Dr Duffy said it was disappointing to see the rise in cases because there had been a drop which had appeared to be contained and sustained.
“Every time we see a wave we know that it impacts on the health service - not only on general practice, but more importantly we know every time there's a wave, we see other services close down.
“That is impacting on their healthcare, and it's something that's probably making us in general practice even more busy because we're the last port of call. People turn to us because they can't get the tests or the delay in getting what's meant to be followed up in the hospital setting.
“That's going to be the concern again – that we'll see hospital services having to close temporarily again, impacting on people not only because of Covid but because of the non-Covid medical problems they have.”