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Ambulances ferrying critically ill patients to other hospitals as ICUs fill up nationwide


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Hospitals around the country are having to transport critically ill patients in ambulances to other hospitals as many intensive care units have reached capacity in recent days.

Dr Michael Power, clinical lead on critical care at Beaumont Hospital described the situation in ICUs as “grim” and added there were just 37 free ICU beds across the system.

“Over the last few days there have been hospitals that have made calls to other hospitals and we have activated the mobile intensive care ambulance service and patients have been transported from one hospital to the other to alleviate pressure,” Dr Power said while speaking on Morning Ireland on RTE Radio One.

He continued: “It is grim, and it is worrying. Day on day, the figures continue to increase. 125 [the number that were in ICU] has risen to 128 overnight. The response of the system has been to increase capacity from 282 to 292.

“Currently, hospitals are redeploying staff that have ICU training from traditional services into the system to withstand additional surge capacity across the hospital system.

Dr Power says that 19 people have been admitted to ICUs in the last 24 hours and that figures continue to rise. “There were only four patients discharged from ICUs yesterday so as far as we can see there is a constant increase in the number of presentations of critically ill patients,” Dr Power said.

Dr Power says that the “rationing” of ICU care among patients doesn’t yet apply at this time, though.

He said the extra capacity secured from private hospitals will help the health service redeploy more resources to the stretched ICUs and added that nurses who have had ICU training since the start of the pandemic are being identified so ICU capacity can be increased to 350 if needed.

“I think the role of private hospitals at the moment is to deliver scheduled critical care for non-Covid patients and that frees critical care beds in public hospitals.

“It’s the staff, it’s really the nursing staff [shortage]. What’s happening now is that there’s an initiative right across the acute hospital system to step down scheduled care surgery except for essential or emergency surgeries and those staff then become available for redeployment to ICUs and will increase the surge capacity from 292, where it stands now, to 350. That work is underway at the moment,” Dr Power said.

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There were 134 hospitalisations in the last 24 hours, according to the latest HSE data, a number that continues to climb daily, which will in turn put more pressure on ICUs in the future.

Dr Power says hospitals are adopting an “oxygen economy” exercise for patients to ensure that patients get “enough but not too much oxygen” to ensure supplies aren’t squandered.

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