Elderly suffer most as four new flu deaths take toll to 40
A significant rise in deaths among the elderly in recent weeks has been reported, with flu taking a particular toll.
The "excess deaths" are calculated by comparing figures during the period from the end of December and early January with preceding weeks.
It comes as four more deaths from flu have been reported, reaching a total of 40 so far this winter.
But the virus is a contributory factor in hundreds of other deaths, mostly among pensioners who have other underlying illnesses.
The average age of patients who died from flu is 79, and it follows ongoing concerns about the negative impact of ongoing gridlock in hospital emergency departments.
Emergency consultants have warned that the trolley crisis causes up to 350 needless deaths here annually.
"If such a large number of preventable deaths occurred in any other environment those responsible for or with oversight responsibility for the problem would be held to account and removed from their roles," said a spokesman for the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine.
The excess all-cause deaths among people aged 65 and over, in and out of hospital, has been reported over six weeks by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
"These excess deaths were most likely associated with flu," it said. And the same pattern is also seen in Europe.
Although the winter has been relatively mild, cold temperatures endanger the elderly by increasing the risk and severity of flu, chest infections and other respiratory problems.
Cold can lead to a rise in blood pressure and also trigger heart attacks and strokes.
The trolley crisis continued for several hospitals yesterday with 43 patients needing a bed in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin. Patients also had to endure cramped conditions in Cork University Hospital, University Hospital Limerick and Tullamore Hospital.
Health Minister Simon Harris has admitted that over 100 beds are closed because of a lack of staff to cater them.
Meanwhile, the Saolta Group, which covers hospitals in the west and north-west, said around 50 cancer patients who would normally be given chemotherapy in Letterkenny Hospital have to travel to Galway instead because of a lack of staff.
A spokeswoman said one of the posts of consultant oncologist in Letterkenny Hospital, which was filled by a locum doctor, is vacant after their resignation.
"In this context it is not clinically appropriate to start new patients on chemotherapy regimes at Letterkenny when we would not have the consultant medical cover to ensure it could be provided without interruption to the regime," she said.
It means the patients face a journey of up to six hours for treatment.
A new locum consultant medical oncologist is due to take up their post on March 6.
The spokeswoman said the oncology clinical team and hospital management are very aware of the additional stress associated with cancer patients having to travel for chemotherapy treatment. However the service must be safe.