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Hospitals could face staffing shortage over Omicron wave

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FEARS have been expressed the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 may lead to staffing shortages in hospitals early in the New Year.

Dr Catherine Motherway, a leading intensive care consultant at Limerick University Hospital, has voiced concern in a recent interview that the highly transmissible new variant will have a very significant impact on staff.

The National Ambulance Service (NAS) meanwhile has put private operators on standby in expectation that high numbers of staff will be lost to Covid, coupled with an expected surge in call-outs in January.

Case numbers soared nationally to 11,182 on Christmas Eve, with Omicron as the driving factor. The variant now accounts for 83pc of all cases.

There were 38 confirmed Covid-19 patients in ICU at UHL on Tuesday, which was the third highest in the country after 51 were recorded in Beaumont Hospital and 38 in Tallaght.

The HSE’s Performance Management and Improvement Unit has confirmed 12 of these confirmed cases are being treated in ICU in UHL. In addition, UHL is treating 24 suspected cases of the virus in UHL, which is the second highest number in the country.

The incidence of Covid-19 continues to rise in Clare and the Mid-West, and is expected to dramatically increase over the coming weeks in view of national trends. There were 1,525 new cases of Covid-19 in Clare from December 10 to December 23, 2,334 in Limerick and 2,126 in North Tipperary. Meanwhile, the 14-day incidence of Covid-19 in Clare has increased from 1,120 per 100,000 on December 13 to 1,283 on December 23.

It also went up marginally in Limerick from 913 to 1,197 but fell in Tipperary from 1,441 to 1,322 during the same period.

The five-day moving average on December 23 was 148 in Clare, 191 in Limerick and 170 in Tipperary.

Dr Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, has urged people to restrict their movements this week as Omicron cases escalate.

Ahead of the post-Christmas sales, he appealed to the public to avoid crowded retail centres and shops that did not feel safe, to shop online where possible and not to meet indoors with people from other households.

Public Health Mid-West has been closely watching and monitoring the emergence of the Omicron variant at a local and national level, and believe that it will soon become the dominant strain in the region.

Public Health Mid-West recorded 4,058 Covid-19 cases in the Mid-West over a 14 day, including 1,290 in Clare before Christmas.

The public health department are expecting cases to spike in the coming weeks due to Christmas social activity and the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

For this reason, Public Health Mid-West are encouraging everyone to limit social activity and social contacts in the coming days in order to reduce the risk of household outbreaks this weekend.

The UL Hospitals’ Group expressed concern before Christmas about the impact of the Omicron variant.

“It is at this point uncertain what effect the Omicron variant will have on demand for critical care beds but the advice from bodies such as the WHO, ECDC, NPHET and from the HSE is clear, a spokesperson for the group stated.

“Members of the public are being encouraged to reduce their social contacts and follow all the relevant public health advice to break the chains of transmission and reduce the burden of disease.”

by Dan Danaher

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