THE new Omicron Covid-19 variant is crippling health services following a dramatic 46% hike in absences throughout the public acute hospital system in just four days, writes Dan Danaher.
Official figures obtained by The Clare Champion have revealed the number of staff out sick on Covid-19 related illness in the UL Hospitals’ Group increased from 392 on Friday to 575 on Tuesday.
It is understood that the current Covid-19 related absences due to confirmed cases and close contacts is one of the highest in the group since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
The Mid-West Department of Public Health has released preliminary analysis showing between 1,100 and 1,500 daily Covid-19 cases across the region.
This would surpass previous records seen in January 2021 of 902 cases on January 2, 2021.
The group has confirmed Covid-19 related staff absences are resulting in significant disruption to services.
In addition to resulting in staff shortages, the new variant has led to the deferral of most scheduled surgery and outpatient appointments across all hospital sites from Tuesday, January 4, until Friday, January 7.
This includes University Hospital Limerick, Ennis Hospital, Nenagh Hospital, St John’s Hospital, and Croom Orthopaedic Hospital. Services at University Maternity Hospital Limerick are unaffected.
The group has confirmed that all impacted patients are being contacted directly by the hospital.
UL Hospitals’ Group CEO, Colette Cowan, said the group regretted the impact that these cancellations will have on patients.
“The group will prioritise our most urgent patients for planned procedures and appointments next week and we look forward to increasing activity as soon as possible.
“The high levels of Covid-19 infection across our communities is having a significant impact on staffing levels and therefore it is imperative that we take the necessary precautions to ensure that time-critical and emergency care can go ahead.”
“I would like to remind people of the importance of following basic public health measures in the weeks and months ahead such as social distancing, washing their hands and limiting social contacts to help stop the spread of Covid-19.”
As the group experience a significant surge in Covid-19 activity across society, it anticipates that an increase in staff absences will have a significant impact on services over the coming weeks.
There are currently 575 staff off work and self-isolating having either tested positive for Covid-19, been designated as a close contact or have been deemed high risk.
All the relevant HPSC guidance is being followed as hospitals work to contain the virus and to protect patients and staff. Contact tracing and testing of staff and patients are continuing and hospitals are putting into effect all the appropriate infection control measures to mitigate the risk.
If the number of staff absences remain at a high level, the group may have to consider extending the cancellation of certain treatments.
The deferral of elective and outpatient procedures will also have a negative impact on hospital waiting lists, which are at very high levels.
The number of patients on public Mid-West in-patient waiting lists has increased from 4,798 in January 2020 to 5,021 in November 2021.
There has also been a worrying 10% rise in the number of outpatients waiting to be treated, which is up from 47,134 in January 2020 to 52,539 last November.