Wednesday 25 April 2018

Flu crisis 'to double in intensity' as Taoiseach criticised for lack of action on hospital beds

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Niall O'Connor and Conor Feehan

Doctors and opposition TDs have rounded on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as it emerged the number of patients lingering on trolleys is 10pc higher than this time last year.

As the health crisis threatens to disrupt the new school term, it was claimed last night that parents have not been issued clear advice over whether to keep their children at home.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) yesterday said it has recorded a record 2,408 patient on trolleys during the first week of 2018.

This marks an increase of 221 - around 10pc - on the same period in 2017.

Experts are now warning that the crisis will only get worse, as tens of thousands of children return to school following the Christmas break.

The HSE's assistant national director Dr Kevin Kelleher said the crisis will "double in intensity" over the next fortnight.

Patients lie on trolleys in a corridor of St Luke’s General Hospital, Kilkenny
Patients lie on trolleys in a corridor of St Luke’s General Hospital, Kilkenny

However, he said we have not reached a point whereby school closures will be ordered.

Dr Kelleher said children and adults who are in the early stages of the illness - such as "feeling off", with a runny nose or watery eyes - are also infectious and should stay at home.

"There are two types of the flu virus, and to have them circulating in equal proportions would not be common," he told the Herald.

"We have the A and the B types now and that is why young people as well as older generations are getting sick."

Suffering

Asked if there are more children suffering from the flu this year, he said GPs were seeing an increase in the numbers of younger people with the virus.

The public perception that the flu is more widespread this year was borne out by his observations based on evidence from doctors around the country.

Embattled Health Minister Simon Harris spent yesterday speaking to hospital managers before children return to school.

Last night, opposition TDs rounded on the Government over its alleged failure to provide guidelines to parents.

Fianna Fail children's spokesperson Anne Rabbitte questioned the role of the Strategic Communications Unit (SCU), which she labelled a "spin unit".

"Five million euro was pumped into this unit but it appears to be doing nothing in relation to communicating to parents over this crisis," the Galway East TD told the Herald.

"The other departments also need to step up here. I've seen very little presence on the likes of Facebook and Twitter and that isn't good enough.

"We have a situation where children are lying on trolleys. This crisis could have a ripple effect if not handled correctly."

Labour Party health spokesperson Alan Kelly also called for more information.

"Parents need peace of mind that their children won't be exposed to the risk of catching the flu from other children who may be showing signs of the virus," Mr Kelly said.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Richard Bruton said advice to parents is available on its website and that any decision in relation to school closures is up to individual boards of management.

The Children's Hospital Group has said that children who gets flu-like symptoms should stay at home, rest and drink plenty of fluids.

"If parents are worried about their child's breathing or fluid intake, or if any young child or infant is in one of the high-risk groups and develops flu-like symptoms, they should contact their GP," it added.

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