The chief clinical officer of the HSE, Dr Colm Henry has said that without exemptions allowing asymptomatic staff who are close contacts to return to work, the health service “would be in serious trouble.”
The scale of disruption being experienced by the health service was “unprecedented” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
The current situation “from an HSE perspective” was very difficult with community positivity rates of 60 percent and the fact that 25 percent of the Covid cases in 2021 were between Christmas and New Year.
The HSE was trying to protect services, he added.
The HSE’s chief operating officer, Anne O’Connor told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that staff could not just be redeployed to other areas, but efforts were being made to send them where they were needed most.
The latest official figures, which were from Friday December 31, were that 8,000 health services staff were not at work because they had either tested positive for Covid or were a close contact. That figure was more likely to be 14,000 to 15,000, she said.
This was “very challenging” for the health service – not just hospitals, but also general practices, community services and disability services, added Ms O’Connor.
Discharge pathways for patients were always an issue for hospitals, she explained, but this was even more difficult now as home supports and step down facilities were also under pressure because of staff shortages due to Covid.
The ambulance service was also under pressure with 260 staff absent yesterday, she said.
While all services were challenged, prioritisation would be on the basis of clinical need. Hospitals would continue to do as much as they could, there would not be a “blanket stop” of elective services, she said. Emergency care and time sensitive care were “things we have to do.”
When asked when the portal to register positive antigen tests would open, Ms O’Connor said she expected it to open next week.