HSE chiefs in the Midwest have issued a warning over the impact of a possible third wave of Covid-19 on service delivery in the region.
“This Christmas has to be different,” Dr Mai Mannix, Director of Public Health in the Midwest told members of the local authority. “The next couple of weeks are so important and will determine what happens in January, which is always tough anyway in terms of healthcare. We are appealing to people to reduce their social contacts immediately. Keep washing your hands and keeping social distance.”
Dr Mannix also said there were far too many instances where people were sick and still turning up at work. “This cannot continue,” she said.
Professor Brian Lenehan, Chief Clinical Director said that University Limerick Hospitals Group (ULHG) could not rule out having to cancel elective procedures in January. He said the acute hospitals were preparing for a possible Covid spike in the New Year.
“January is always a challenging month,” he noted. “Nobody in the health service looks forward to it. It is challenging with the normal levels of ‘flu’, but will be even more challenging if there is a third wave of Covid. We learned in the first and second wave and are preparing for a third in early Spring. That could lead to the cancellation of scheduled care, but our aim will be to make every effort to continue care in a safe way.”
Professor Lenehan outlined the impact of previous waves of Covid-19 on the University Hospital Limerick (UHL), as well as the issues caused by outbreaks across the hospitals.
He said that a recent complex outbreak at a number of sites had now been eradicated thanks to “good management and good national guidance”.
Professor Lenehan acknowledged the impact on planned procedures and said the cancellations that had happened had been “very difficult on patients and families”. As of last Monday, he said, there was only one Covid-positive patient within the hospitals group and a 14-bed unit has been identified to accommodate suspect cases.
He added that staffing levels were now stable following up to 200 simultaneous absences across ULHG in September.
In relation to community services, Chief Officer of HSE Midwest Community Healthcare Maria Bridgeman said her section was working to prepare and respond to a possible further surge. “Community services need to be able to prepare and respond to any increase in cases and keep services going alongside the vaccine roll-out and any other surge.”
Ms Bridgeman said that in the first and second waves, Covid-related absences had been a huge challenge. “We had ongoing absences due to cases and contacts of cases,” she outlined. “Overall, recruitment and retention of staff remains very challenging.”