The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has called for all elective care to be cancelled until the end of January due to pressures on the health system from rising Covid-19 case numbers.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha warned on Monday that the situation in hospitals nationwide at present was “very serious”, with "very sick patients" being treated on wards due to staffing pressures in intensive care units.
It comes as five hospitals in Limerick, Clare and Tipperary have already deferred the majority of scheduled surgery and outpatient appointments this week due to Covid-related staff absenteeism.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha told RTÉ radio’s News at One that nursing staff around the country were “very stretched” and their working environment was “very difficult” as it usually was at this time of year, but some hospitals were regularly being overwhelmed.
The absence of staff due to Covid infection or being close contacts was also adding pressure and leading to “a perfect storm,” she said.
Staffing levels in intensive care units in particular were under pressure, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said, and as a result “very sick patients” were being treated on the wards.
The view of the INMO was that the health service should be treated as “one united service” across public and private hospitals. There should be a plan in place to ensure hospitals could provide safe care, she urged.
Staff in hospitals were very nervous, added Ms Ní Sheaghdha.
Elective care must be cancelled, she said given the current situation, at least until the end of January.
Nurses were doing their best in difficult circumstances, but the pressures were taking their toll. Many had cancelled leave and returned to work, but some were exhausted. Their fear was that they were not being supported.
Nurses were expected to act professionally, but could not do that to the best of their ability in circumstances that were outside their control, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said.
The INMO's call came as hospitalisations for Covid-19 rose above 800 patients on Monday.
A further 16,986 cases were also confirmed by the Department of Health, as hospitalisations increased by 87 people over the last 24 hours. 93 patients are being treated in intensive care, up six since Sunday.
With high levels of staff absent in the food manufacturing and the retail distribution sectors due to the virus, there were also warnings on Monday of growing pressure on the critical supply chain.