Hospitals 'expecting the worst' as viral epidemic ready to peak
Nurses are bracing themselves for a deluge of patients at hospitals around the country as the flu epidemic is expected to peak later this week.
David Hughes, deputy general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), said the flu epidemic - which led to record numbers of patients on trolleys at emergency departments last week - is expected to peak on Wednesday.
The prediction comes after the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) reported last week that the number of reported cases of influenza-like illness "increased significantly in the past week".
Around 20,000 people with flu and other respiratory viruses swamped GP surgeries last week, according to the Health Service Executive (HSE).
Around 500 with flu and other respiratory viruses, such as colds, were admitted to the eight major hospitals around the country.
However, the figure does not take into account flu patients attending 40 other smaller hospitals.
Although the HSPC said the flu is expected to circulate "for the next four weeks at least", the INMO expects it will peak on Wednesday, creating more misery for staff and patients.
"We're expecting the worst," said Mr Hughes last night.
"The system is already under pressure and because it's such a contagious flu, it will put a lot more pressure on the system.
"Containing the flu and not having it spread in hospitals is the big challenge."
Officials from the HSE were unable to say last night what contingency plans are being put in place to reduce the spread of the flu in hospitals.
However, Mr Hughes said it would be wise for all hospitals to ban visitors as a precaution.
In the meantime, the union fears nurses will start coming down with the flu due to exposure to the virus and the strain they are under caring for those with illness in cramped conditions.
"That is a real risk, which would deplete staff even further," he said. "People are starting to feel the strain and burnout is a real problem."