‘No room for complacency’ as numbers of Covid-19 patients in hospital creep upwards

The chief executive of the Saolta University Health Care Group, which runs a number of public hospitals including Portiuncula Hospital, has said this week that while the coronavirus curve is being flattened, there is no room for complacency.

Tony Canavan said while the hospitals in the group were “coping well” and there were still a number of general and intensive care beds available across all of its sites, there was no guarantee that the pandemic peak was “not down the road”.

At the time of going to press there were 27 patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units in Saolta’s hospitals in counties Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Donegal, and Sligo. There was a gradual build-up of admissions rather than a surge, he said, which was manageable from a health service perspective.

“We check in with the hospitals on a number of occasions daily and all our hospitals are coping well,” he said. “Activity has increased a little in all our hospitals but not dramatically. All of our sites still have beds available and ICU capacity. We are over half way in terms of capacity in all our hospitals.”

Mr Canavan attributed this to the health protection measures introduced by the Government and the public’s willingness to comply with these restrictions. “This is having a direct positive impact on the way it [the pandemic] is being managed by the health service. If these [actions] were not in place our health service would have been overrun.”

He agreed with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s view that Ireland may yet have to face a surge in cases in the days ahead. Portiuncula was one of a number of hospitals in the region to implement a “surge plan” to cope with the expected escalation in cases this month.

“I would agree with the Taoiseach that there are dark days to come,” Mr Canavan said. “On Tuesday there were over 40 deaths from Covid-19, the most in any single day. The number of deaths each day is rising swiftly, a reminder that this is a serious virus with very dark consequences for some people. That is why it is being taken so seriously.”

“We are certainly not out of the woods. We have flattened the curve but we cannot say that a peak is not down the road or that an unexpected event could occur which would cause numbers to spike. In the last week the numbers [of Covid-19 admissions] have crept up steadily day by day. It is hardly noticeable but they are creeping by another few beds. The good thing is that it is a gradual build up and the rate of impact on the health service is within what we can manage.”

The chief executive stated that ICUs were still working within their original capacities and so far the hospitals have not had to use any of the additional beds made available to cope with the anticipated increase in patient numbers due to the coronavirus.

“In our ICUs we are still working within our original bed capacity, we have not had to go outside those numbers. We have another phase of ICU beds available on each of our hospital sites, ready to be activated, but we have not had to do that yet.

“We can see from the figures across the country that the people who end up in hospital tend to be older - over 65 - and the figures are fairly evenly distributed between men and women. A lot who would have tested positive for the virus would have underlying conditions.

“When we look at unfortunately those who have died the average age is quite high, they tend to be in their eighties. This indicates to us that older people are particularly vulnerable. Regarding younger people who contract it, usually if they have symptoms, these will be quite mild. For older people, the outcomes can be poorer.”

Mr Canavan said he was glad to see that people requiring general hospital care were now attending local facilities as there had been a fall-off in numbers recently.

“At the start of the [coronavirus] process people were worried about going to hospital. The number of attendances at our emergency departments and admissions dropped off quite considerably. This ordinary, non-Covid-19 activity has increased now. This is a positive development. We were concerned that people were staying at home when they should be going in to hospital.”


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