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Dr Durcan, a rheumatologist in Beaumont, told the annual conference of the IHCA in Dublin ''things are going to get much worse this winter'' if a strong flu strain strikes (stock photo)

Dr Durcan, a rheumatologist in Beaumont, told the annual conference of the IHCA in Dublin ''things are going to get much worse this winter'' if a strong flu strain strikes (stock photo)

Dr Durcan, a rheumatologist in Beaumont, told the annual conference of the IHCA in Dublin ''things are going to get much worse this winter'' if a strong flu strain strikes (stock photo)

Ireland is at risk of a virulent strain of 'Aussie flu' this winter, leaving hospitals facing the prospect of "horrific" levels of overcrowding, a doctors' conference was told yesterday.

Dr Laura Durcan, vice-president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), said the intensive care unit in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin was reported to be operating at 130pc capacity during the week.

Dr Durcan, a rheumatologist in Beaumont, told the annual conference of the IHCA in Dublin "things are going to get much worse this winter" if a strong flu strain strikes.

There are currently only 35 full-time equivalent ICU consultant posts rather than the 82 which are required, the meeting was told.

The sickest patients in intensive care are also being impacted because of a lack of specialists and facilities.

Earlier, the meeting heard that many cancer patients are not being seen in the recommended target time of two weeks because of a shortage of doctors and beds.

A new model of care for urology to deal with illnesses such as prostate cancer was launched this month but it has little chance of success due to the chronic shortage of urologists, doctors claimed.

"We currently have 37 urologists across Ireland, one third of what New Zealand has, or only 15pc of the number in Denmark - both countries have similar populations to Ireland," the meeting was told.

They warned the Government's national mental health plan, A Vision for Change, first published in 2006 as a blueprint for the delivery of these services, remains hugely under-resourced.

IHCA president Dr Donal O'Hanlon said: "The word crisis, when describing our health services, is now unfortunately an overused and devalued term, yet the truth is that all the indicators point to the fact that the delivery of our health services, year on year, is diminishing.

"The numbers of patients waiting are increasing and access is becoming more restricted. The IHCA's #CareCantWait campaign in recent months has been raising awareness as to the extent of this problem.

"Not only are hundreds of thousands of patients now waiting to see a consultant, but key national health care programmes in areas such as mental health, intensive care, maternity services and cancer care are at risk of failure because of the consultant recruitment crisis."

Health Minister Simon Harris did not attend because of a diary clash and Minister of State Jim Daly, who was due to stand in for him, also had to withdraw.

Sunday Independent