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Healthcare unions call for masks and ‘work from home’ to return, rate of Covid infections falls in a week

Nurses warn they are being ‘thrown to the wolves’ amid pressure on hospitals

Healthcare unions are calling on the Government to reintroduce mandatory mask wearing indoors and work from home guidance to limit the spread of Covid-19 and ease the burden on hospitals

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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar expects the current wave of Covid infections to peak in the next two weeks. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar expects the current wave of Covid infections to peak in the next two weeks. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar expects the current wave of Covid infections to peak in the next two weeks. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

The first tentative signs that the current Covid-19 wave may be coming under control have emerged, as the percentage of people testing positive for the virus after a HSE PCR test continues to fall.

The positivity rate has been an important metric during the pandemic to signal the spread of the virus is easing, but limitations on free HSE PCR tests since last month has made it less reliable.

However, the indications in recent days are increasingly optimistic, with the percentage of people testing positive through a PCR test falling to 36.44pc yesterday.

On Monday, the positivity rate was 43.11pc, which was a reduction on last Friday when it stood at 44.87pc.

The seven-day positivity rate dropped to 41.7pc yesterday, down from 45.5pc last Friday.

The trend could possibly signal that although the virus is still circulating at high levels, this wave could be slowing.

The number of patients with Covid-19 in hospital rose to 1,610 yesterday, an increase of five since Tuesday. However, of these, there were 49 in intensive care, a fall of one in a day.

The number of combined positive PCR and home antigen tests reached 12,508 yesterday, down from 14,549 on Tuesday.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he expected the current wave of infections to peak in the next two weeks. However, hospitals remain under extreme pressure.

Additionally, cancer patients in a badly hit part of the country find themselves in competition for beds and access to diagnostics as the Covid-19 pandemic heaps further pressures on hospitals. This is according to a leading specialist.

Professor Michael Kerin, a cancer specialist in Galway, said the current wave is making an already inadequate system there worse.

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Already the west and northwest have the highest national incidence of cancer and the lowest survival rates for breast and lung cancer due to the lack of modern facilities, he stated.

Prof Kerin called for the fast-tracking of a new cancer centre to service the region, as promised in the national development plan.

Even when Covid-19 has eased, the region will be struggling to provide a certain standard of cancer care.

A design team needs to be in place by this summer for the planned new centre with diagnostics and attached laboratory.

“The five-year survival for breast cancer in the region is 80pc, compared to the national average of 86pc,” he said.

Prof Kerin added that the figures for lung and colorectal cancers also compare poorly with the national average.

The infrastructure in the west is inferior and not fit for purpose, although it delivers 20pc of the country’s cancer care, said Prof Kerin, who is director of the Saolta hospital group’s cancer network.

It comes as the number of outbreaks of Covid last week reported nationally rose to 201. That is the highest this year, although some were carried over from the previous week, including St Patrick’s Day.

There were 36 outbreaks of Covid-19 in hospital, up from 15 the previous week .

There were 60 outbreaks in nursing homes, with the largest infecting 61 people.

The largest increase last week was in residential institutions, where there were 76 outbreaks, up from 43 the previous week

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) today calls for public health measures to be revisited, particularly around face masks.

It points out around 58pc of all Covid-19 deaths have been linked to outbreaks, with over 90pc of those in healthcare facilities. It said hospitals are not safe for patients currently and there is a need for coherent public health advice .

INMO President Karen McGowan said that nurses feel they are being “thrown to the wolves”.

Not only are they dealing with record overcrowding but the highest levels yet of staff absenteeism due to Covid-19 will be seen, she added.

The World Health Organisation said it is likely severity of Covid disease will wane over time but it warned a more dangerous variant could also be lurking.

Masks 

Healthcare unions are calling on the Government to reintroduce mandatory mask wearing indoors and work from home guidance to limit the spread of Covid-19 and ease the burden on hospitals.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine (IAEM) have described the current conditions in hospitals as “intolerable” in a joint letter which they have issued to Government.

Head of the IAEM Dr Fergal Hickey, who is a consultant in emergency medicine at Sligo University Hospital, said the current pressure in Irish emergency departments has made them “unsafe”.

He said the Irish healthcare system is currently “not coping” as there are high numbers of patients in hospital with Covid-19, ward outbreaks and large numbers of people on trolleys.

“What we are asking, is that steps are taken to flatten the curve again,” he said.

“We’re not going back to talking about the draconian restrictions. We’re talking about the relatively simple interventions of requiring people to wear masks in indoor settings and advising people to work from home where possible.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, Dr Hickey said these measures could “make the difference” in easing the burden on healthcare and save lives.

According to Dr Hickey if patients have to wait more than five hours from “decision to admit” in emergency departments an additional one in 82 patients will die as a result.

Meanwhile, the 30-day mortality rate increases for all patients if emergency departments are overcrowded.

“The Government seems to have concluded that if it can’t completely resolve the problem of Covid without going back to draconian restrictions, that they’re really not going to say anything,” he said.

“We’re asking for a much stronger encouragement; up to and including a formal mandate.

“We don’t see politicians, we don’t see senior figures within the HSE visiting emergency departments at the moment because they would be afraid of what they might find.”

He added that his union is not claiming that the return of minor restrictions would end the pandemic, but “they will lessen” community transmission and reduce hospital admissions.

It comes as there are 1,506 Covid-19 patients in hospital this morning, including 49 in ICU.


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