'Frail elderly with flu better served staying in nursing homes,' says minister
Health Minister Simon Harris has urged older people to stay in their nursing homes if they are suffering from flu-like symptoms as he faces the worst trolley crisis on record.
Mr Harris said he would work with nursing homes to ensure they had the supports they needed to treat people with the flu and keep them out of overcrowded hospitals.
Mr Harris said older people were especially susceptible to the current strain of flu, which resulted in 612 people languishing on trolleys in hospital wards yesterday.
There has been an almost 20pc rise in the number of patients aged over 75 going to hospitals in recent days with flu-like symptoms compared with the same period last year.
Mr Harris said "frail elderly" people would be better served staying in nursing homes when they show flu symptoms as they will have private rooms and bathrooms.
"Perhaps they could be better cared for there with access to community supports, with access to doctors and nurses rather than being brought into an emergency department or a hospital where they may pick up further infections," he said.
Mr Harris's comments were among a number of initiatives he outlined aimed at tackling the overcrowding crisis.
He also committed to opening hospital diagnostic services until 8pm each day and said the HSE would review the length of stay of patients who were admitted during the Christmas break.
In addition, he called for GPs to be given direct access to consultants to stop overcrowding in emergency departments.
Despite the record trolley figures, Mr Harris refused to call the crisis a national emergency.
"We can all come out with a soundbite or a buzz word to try to address the issue of the day but what is happening here is much more important," he said.
"Rather than having headlines about national emergencies or whatever else, the headline and message I would like to get out is the absolute importance of the vaccination and the absolute importance for all us as citizens doing everything we possibly can to minimise the spread of the flu."
The minister said he was open to expanding the vaccination programme to allow more people avail of the flu jab for free. He also committed to carrying out a review of bed capacity in hospitals.
Mr Harris held a crisis meeting with HSE director general Tony O'Brien yesterday and will be seeking a progress report on the trolley crisis tomorrow.
"It is my job to set policy and fund that policy. It is the job of managers and the HSE that everything possible that can be done is being done. I have conveyed that message to them today.
"We need a redoubling of efforts by the HSE and of managers in every hospital site," he said.
"It is interesting to see some hospitals doing very well in very difficult circumstances. I put that down to operational grip, to managers doing what they are paid to do and I want to see that practice expanded to other hospitals."