Hopes for 40-bed 'patient hotel' as hospitals expect 'worst flu season' in years
Plans for 40-bed 'patient hotel' first mooted in south Tipperary over a year ago
Hospitals struggling with the winter trolley crisis risk being tipped over the edge if Ireland is hit with a virulent flu strain.
Australia and New Zealand have just endured one of their worst winters for decades because of the intense prevalence of the H3N2 flu strain which is particularly dangerous for the elderly.
The strain led to many of the 92 reported deaths from flu in Ireland last winter.
The real death toll from flu runs into hundreds every year and can claim more than 1,000 during an epidemic.
The HSE is particularly concerned at the ongoing failure of so many health workers and people in at-risk groups to get the flu vaccine.
Although there is no certainty that Ireland's winter will follow the pattern of Australia and New Zealand, any upsurge in flu will add to the misery of our overcrowded hospital emergency departments.
The HSE has bought major stocks of the flu vaccine, which includes protection against this strain, and the national flu campaign will be launched in the coming weeks.
There was a slight increase in vaccine uptake both in hospital staff and other health staff last winter. But less than a third avail of the jab.
The highest uptake is among medical and dental staff, and the lowest among nurses.
Last year the vaccine was less effective among the elderly than other groups.
There were 354 patients on hospital trolleys across the country yesterday morning, including 35 in Limerick and 34 in Cork.
The flu threat comes as doctors at one of the country's most overcrowded hospitals have warned of "chaos, danger and degradation" over the coming winter.
The medics at South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel will deliver the warning face-to-face at a meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris this afternoon.
Plans for a 40-bed "patient hotel" to alleviate overcrowding at its emergency department were first mooted over a year ago - but, as previously reported in the Irish Independent, have yet to come to fruition.
The meeting with the minister follows Fine Gael's 'think-in' in Clonmel and the failure of the HSE to tackle trolley gridlock and spiralling waiting lists looks set to be a major cause of grievance among backbenchers.
Consultant physician Dr Paul O'Regan said: "We have met with the current minister on two occasions.
"We have pointed out the desperate state of our patients and we're hoping to instil some sense of urgency."
A vacant area, off the existing day-ward at the hospital, was due to open with 11 trolleys.
Dr O'Regan said: "It has been ready for some weeks but hasn't opened yet because of staffing problems.
"We have been running at 150pc medical bed occupancy over the summer, which is likely to go to 190pc during the winter...even with immediate action we face another winter of chaos for staff and danger and degradation for patients."