Hospital chiefs move to reassure public as ED numbers see dramatic decline

The number of patients attending the emergency departments (EDs ) of local hospitals has dropped dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Just one patient was recorded as waiting on a trolley at Portiuncula University Hospital in Ballinasloe on Monday and Tuesday, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation which records daily “Trolley Watch” numbers in the country’s public hospitals. There were no patients recorded on trolleys in Midland Regional Hospitals in Tullamore or Mullingar.

There were a total of 22 patients waiting for beds on Monday and 37 on Tuesday in public hospitals throughout the country. Very low figures were also recorded for ED attendances in recent weeks.

This fall off in numbers has resulted in a major daily reduction in general hospital admissions which has prompted growing concern among health authorities that many people are missing out on vital treatment and care.

Despite strong assurances from hospitals that there were separate entrance and treatment pathways for coronavirus patients, fears about contracting this potentially fatal virus is stlll keeping sick patients away from EDs. These facilities were recording very high attendance rates prior to this global health emergency.

Tony Canavan, the chief executive of the Saolta University Health Care Group, which runs the seven public hospitals in Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, and Donegal, renewed his appeal this week to people with health concerns to attend hospital. He said he was very concerned about this group’s reluctance to access care and said the reduction in numbers was not due to people having “become healthier”.

He reassured them that services were operating as normal and that every precaution was being taken to protect people’s health and keep patients safe. He feared there were people with major health problems, such as heart attack or stroke symptoms, staying away from hospital during the current health crisis.

Trevor O’Callaghan, CEO of Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, also moved to reassure people that it was safe to attend hospitals and ED departments.

“All our staff are working long hours, weekends, working in different locations or maybe doing different job roles,” he said this week. “These are extraordinary times and we have an extraordinary workforce that are highly regarded across the country as we have seen from the ‘Shine Your Light’ campaign. Thank you to each and every staff member.

“Our emergency departments are open 24/7 for people who are seriously ill or injured and if their life is at risk. If you or someone else needs urgent care please do not delay going to the ED. Stroke and heart attacks are life-threatening medical emergencies. If you or someone else is showing signs of a stroke or heart attack, don’t wait, call 999. Routine matters should continue to present to their GP or out of hours practice in the first instance.”

Mr O’Callaghan said there were encouraging signs that the virus was coming under control, however he acknowledged that the last week had been particularly difficult in terms of lives lost.

“The Dublin Midlands Hospital Group would like to acknowledge the great support the community is giving our frontline workers at this time,” he said. “While the numbers of cases and deaths are increasing, the national predictive modelling being undertaken by the Department of Health is showing encouraging reduction in the reproduction rates of the virus. This is very positive for us all to see and testament to people adhering to the guidelines. We can also update you that most hospitals have had ICU discharges, and this is another encouraging development.

“The activity across hospital sites is increasing and all sites are seeing increasing non-covid ED activity, while continuing with care of Covid positive illnesses. We are working very closely with our CHO 8 partners who are seeing increasing pressure on their community nursing homes and residential units and we are endeavouring to support our colleagues by providing expert medical and nursing support in the area of care of the older person, respiratory medicine, PPE capacity management, and infection prevention and control guidance.”

For further information on Covid 19, testing, cocooning and minding your mental health during Covid-19 visit


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