Flu and trolley misery take worst toll on elderly, but outbreak still to peak
The elderly are being forced to bear the brunt of a worsening winter flu outbreak and trolley crisis, it has emerged.
All but two of the 15 victims who were killed by flu in recent weeks were over the age of 65.
Older, frail patients were again enduring gruelling waits for a bed in hospital emergency departments across the country yesterday with around 530 on trolleys.
Public health specialist Dr Kevin Kelleher, of the HSE, said the main strain of flu circulating, influenza A(H3), particularly affects the elderly.
This is evident in the death toll from the illness.
Pensioners also accounted for most of the 27 patients suffering complications of the virus admitted to hospital critical care units in the first week of the year.
Dr Kelleher expects the rise in flu levels will not peak for another two weeks. But the virus will continue circulating for months, posing a particular risk of outbreaks in nursing homes.
The flu is expected to indirectly contribute to the deaths of as many as 500 patients with other underlying illnesses this winter.
"No child has died of the flu this winter," he said.
The spread of flu is at its worst in the east, mid-west and south of the country.
The flu vaccine is 40pc to 60pc effective in preventing someone getting the illness, although it has least impact on older, sicker patients.
As the severe weather conditions added to the winter misery yesterday, Cork University Hospital was again suffering the worst overcrowding with 41 patients on trolleys.
There were 30 patients jammed into the emergency department of the Mater Hospital in Dublin.
Health Minister Simon Harris, who visited Cork and Mallow hospitals and witnessed the gridlock conditions endured by patients, said "the number of people on trolleys is still unacceptably high".
"I expect the numbers to be driven down," he said. "The HSE has announced seven extraordinary measures above and beyond the winter initiative that it is now putting in place.
"This involves additional transitional care beds, opening up of more acute beds and working with our nursing homes.
"It is also worth making the point, because we are here in Mallow at a local injuries unit, people who have certain injuries should avail of these rather than finding themselves having to go to an A&E unit.
"This unit here in Mallow has seen almost 20,000 people since it opened in 2013. We have 11 such units around the country - if you have certain types of ailments and more minor injuries you could very quickly be assessed and dealt with in a minor injuries unit.
"I think, in fact, the turnaround time is about two hours so I would encourage the public to make themselves aware of these."