Covid: Hospitals 'not coping' as healthcare staff plead for Government to intervene

Covid: Hospitals 'Not Coping' As Healthcare Staff Plead For Government To Intervene Covid: Hospitals 'Not Coping' As Healthcare Staff Plead For Government To Intervene
Emergency pandemic legislation is due to lapse this on Thursday evening. Photo: PA Images
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Olivia Kelleher

Updated: 2.55pm

The president of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine (IAEM) Dr Fergal Hickey has warned that the healthcare service is not coping with the current wave of Covid-19 and that steps must be taken to "flatten the curve."

The IAEM has joined forces with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) in issuing a statement calling on the Government to revisit issues such indoor mask wearing in congregated settings and working from home.

Their comments come as emergency pandemic legislation is due to lapse this on Thursday evening.

Dr Hickey, who is also a consultant of Emergency Medicine at Sligo General Hospital, told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that the current situation in emergency departments is "unsafe and intolerable."

"First of all I think we need to recognise that for the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine and the Irish Nurses and Midwives' Organisation to jointly issue a statement is a very unusual event," Dr Hickey said.


"It reflects our concerns about the current intolerable and unsafe conditions in Irish emergency departments. [When] we spoke at the beginning of the pandemic - the term 'flattening the curve' was used all the time.

"It was a recognition of the fact that the Irish healthcare system was unlikely to be able to cope with a massive surge.

"What we were trying to do therefore was lessen the burden at any given time, so the healthcare system could cope.

"The healthcare system currently is not coping. Certainly emergency departments are not in a position to cope.

"We have large numbers of patients in hospital with Covid. We have wars, outbreaks of Covid. We have large numbers of people on trolleys.

"What we are asking is that steps are taken to flatten the curve again."

The difference between life and death

Dr Hickey said that they are not looking for a return to draconian restrictions.

"We are talking about the relatively simple interventions of requiring people to wear a mask in indoor settings and advising people to work from home where possible."

Dr Hickey stressed that they are not asking for a huge amount and that interventions could make the difference for individual patients between "life and death."


"At the moment we are getting a very anaemic response from the Government," Dr Hickey said.

"The Government seems to have concluded that if it can't completely resolve the problem of Covid without going back to Draconian restrictions that they are really not going to say anything.

"We are asking for much stronger encouragement up to and including a formal mandate. At the moment we are hearing 'ah sure look do whatever you fancy but wearing a mask is probably a good idea.'

That isn't good enough.

"We know for example that if you have to wait for more than five hours for a decision to admit in an emergency department an additional 1 in 82 patients will die as a direct result.

"We know that if you are in an emergency department that is overcrowded there is an increase in 30 day mortality from all causes for all patients. They are things which are potentially preventable by some action. "

Further chaos

Dr Hickey added that the Government needs to act immediately in order to avoid further chaos in emergency departments nationwide.

"We are asking for Tony Holohan to advise the Government. We are asking the Government to act on our request," he said.


"We don't see politicians, we don't see senior figures within the HSE visiting emergency departments at the moment because they would be afraid of what they might find. We are in a position to actually describe the reality for patients.

"We can't withstand the onslaught of patients. We know for a fact that masks are effective at blocking 95 per cent of respiratory viruses.

"So any improvement in the current situation will lessen the risks for patients and lessen the risks for staff.

"We are not suggesting that this will resolve the problem and that Covid will be over because of these interventions.

"We are saying the current situation is intolerable and unsafe. It is unsafe for patients and unsafe for staff. "


Following the comments, the INMO added that they while the organisation has no involvement in making public health decisions, they deal with the consequences when action is not taken.

The INMO's general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha told RTÉ Radio 1 that nurses and doctors are joining forces to ask for changes in regulations in relation to mask wearing given the extreme pressure they are facing in hospitals throughout the country.

“This is really high risk stuff now. We are dealing with unprecedented numbers. And it is really dangerous. And we are not able to provide safe care. That should be a mandate for extraordinary measures such as an immediate cessation of all elective admissions and day cases.

"So if the Government are not going to make policy changes then they may have to tell those who work in the health services what they will do to make sure they can cope with what they are facing."

Ms Ní Sheaghda added that the HSE does not believe Ireland is near the peak of the current wave of infections.

“Unfortunately, we saw on the 1st of March we were dealing with 616 Covid admissions and now it is 1,506 as of yesterday (March 30th).

"These are significant numbers. The last thing we should be doing is nursing people and trying to provide care to people in severely overcrowded areas.”

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