HSE may look to expand its use of the private hospital system due to Covid surge

The Health Service Executive (HSE) may look to expand its use of private sector hospitals as the system will soon be overwhelmed by Covid patients.

here are currently 622 coronavirus patients in hospital and 117 in ICU.

With daily cases of around 4,000 over the past number of days,  HSE director of acute hospitals Liam Woods said he is “very concerned”. 

“There is at least a two week lag between a high number of cases in the community and what we are seeing in ICU,” Mr Woods said on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland

“So I am very concerned that we are seeing high numbers in the last two weeks and they will translate into increased pressure in ICU.”

The worst-case scenario that has been predicted by Nphet is that there will be four to 500 Covid patients in ICU and 2,000 in hospital. 

“Our current capacity in ICU is 301 beds and if 200 were occupied with Covid we would need at minimum another 100 for all other purposes,” Mr Woods said.

“There isn’t the capacity within the public health system to go to four or 500 ICU beds, that’s not realistic.

“The challenge that faces the system then is decisions about the nature of care and moving toward care that is suboptimal in terms of what’s getting delivered so its very important that we avoid that.

“We previously peaked back in January and the figure was 218 in terms of ICU surge and at that stage we had another 100 patients in ICU.”

The HSE acute hospitals director said mitigations including using private facilities will have to be used as Covid hospitalisations surge. 

They will be used not only for critical care but also for urgent elective surgeries such as cancer care. 

“The mitigations that we can put in place that have assisted previously and we are currently using and will have to expand is our use of the private system,” Mr Woods said.

“There is some critical capacity there and also [it will be used] for urgent elective surgeries – and that’s something we have done before.”

Mr Woods said these decisions will be made “well before” there is four or 500 Covid patients needing intensive care. 

He said rallying with the booster vaccination programme is “very important” in curbing hospitalisations. 

“Vaccinations and the booster campaign are very important, just over half of patients in ICU with Covid are not vaccinated so the opportunity to be vaccinated still remains very high,” Mr Woods said. 

Asked if a circuit breaker lockdown might be needed, he said: “References to the need to reduce and break the transmission of the virus in society is what we are facing.

“If you look at the cases overall while over 65s are just over 9pc of cases they are over 50pc of hospitalisations.

“So, focusing on the booster vaccines for the older age categories is very sensible and prioritising that with immunocompromised and health care workers.”

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland

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