The next two weeks are crucial in terms of weakening the grip of Covid-19 and building on the significant progress made in suppressing the virus, the chief executive of the Saolta University Health Care Group said this week.
Mr Tony Canavan appealed to the public to continue complying with the Government restrictions aimed at eradicating the virus and warned if people relaxed their approach the major success achieved so far could “become undone”.
He emphasised he was very keen to get this message across to people and praised them for behaving responsibly throughout this public health emergency.
Speaking to the Galway Advertiser, he said his greatest concern was that as the Covid-19 restrictions are gradually eased and the country opens up, the virus could spread.
His comments came in the wake of the Minister for Health Simon Harris saying that the situation surrounding Covid-19 is still very fragile. At the time of going to press it was reported that there were 369 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Galway.
'We have made really, really good progress'
The chief executive of Saolta, which provides acute and specialist services in seven public hospitals on five sites - Galway (UHG, Merlin Park, and Portiuncula in Ballinasloe ), Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, and Donegal, and employs 10,345 staff, said if people continue to comply with the restrictions, the virus will be “significantly weakened”.
“The next two weeks are crucial,” Mr Canavan said. “The virus has been contained but it has been contained as long as we stay indoors. My understanding of where we are at is that we’ve contained it because we have reduced the amount of movement in terms of closing schools, colleges, workplaces, etc. That is because of the measures implemented by the Government and the fact that people complied with them. I think the point that Simon Harris was making is if we are not careful with the progress that has been made, it could be reversed.
The next two weeks [will allow us] to undermine the virus. We have made really, really good progress. We never reached that point in hospitals where they became overrun. People have been working so hard for so long [abiding by the restrictions] and they will find the next two weeks hard. If they relax their approach I fear there will be a rise in admissions to hospitals.
'We need to be able to resume a normal way of life where Covid-19 won’t grow again'
“I think there is absolutely no question in our minds if people went back to business as normal and relaxed compliance, there is no doubt that Covid-19 would spread in the community. That’s my concern. The situation has to be monitored closely, that’s where the importance of testing comes in, we can see when a problem arises. It is a very responsible approach that is being taken. We must look very carefully to see if the virus pops up. We need to be able to resume a normal way of life [in the future] where Covid-19 won’t grow again.”
He said the fact that significant numbers of beds designated for Covid-19 patients were vacant in local intensive care units during the height of the pandemic was highly beneficial. However, viewing this situation in a broader context, in terms of other conditions, for example, would give great cause for concern.
“Half of ICU capacity was used for Covid-19 and we thought of it as a good thing. However, if half of ICU was filled with any other category of patient we would be really worried.”
The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units throughout the country has dropped. This downward trend has been reflected also in local ICU figures. “On April 11 there were 156 Covid-19 patients in ICUs across the country but by April 30 there were 105. The numbers were reducing daily.”
Local private hospitals are increasing 'patient activities'
The number of Covid-19 patients in general hospital beds across the country also decreased in the past month from 879 on April 13 to 727 on April 30. Mr Canavan describes this as a “nice, steady decline”.
There are currently 17 vacant ICU beds in Galway and Mayo - nine at UHG and four at both Portiuncula University Hospital in Ballinasloe and Mayo University Hospital in Castlebar.
There are a number of vacant general hospital beds also in the region despite the fact that hospitals have been getting busier since last week as more non-Covid patients access services. There are currently 100 vacant beds at UHG, 16 at Portiuncula University Hospital, five at Mayo University Hospital, and two at Roscommon University Hospital.
The two local private hospitals, the Bon Secours in Renmore and the Galway Clinic in Doughiska, which are providing public health services for the duration of the pandemic, are increasing “patient activities” weekly, according to Mr Canavan. Both facilities are free of the virus which is a major advantage.
“This weekend in particular we hope to move diagnostic services to the Bon Secours. These would be people on waiting lists for CT or MRI scans.” He is very grateful to the private hospitals for their co-operation. “The arrangements with the private hospitals were done in such a short space of time. The following week after the announcement was made we were transferring patients. These hospitals have been very co-operative.”
Greatest concern is for long term care facilities
The chief executive said his two greatest concerns revolved around the spread of the virus in long term care facilities, such as nursing homes, and the need to keep the infection out of facilities which were currently Covid-free. An estimated two-thirds of nursing homes nationally do not have the virus, he said, and it was important to put “work and effort” into ensuring they do not get it. “Once it gets into a facility, it runs riot”.
“Even though I work in a hospital, one of my greatest fears and concerns is what is happening in our long term care facilities. We must stay focused on doing everything we can in the community, that’s the most important area for us to stay focused on, to protect as many lives as possible. Some staff in the hospitals are helping in that regard. In times of crisis, you focus on where the fire is burning.
“These are very vulnerable people. Older people living in nursing homes and elsewhere, if they die of Covid-19, the circumstances of their death is so sad.”
Mr Canavan said hospitals and community services have been focusing on helping nursing homes for the past few weeks.
“Even though this is outside the hospitals, we have a two-pronged strategy, to work with those facilities that have Covid-10 to manage it, and to focus on the long term care facilities that do not have it. We need to keep it outside their doors.”