Friday 19 January 2018

Serious potential for flu to spread as long as A&E trolley crisis continues - leading doctor

St James's Hospital - hit by flu
St James's Hospital - hit by flu
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

A leading doctor has warned that there is a serious potential for influenza to spread as long as the A&E trolley crisis continues.

Six people have died this year already as a result of influenza and a total of 11 people have been admitted to critical condition units with the infection.

Speaking to Newstalk's Breakfast, consultant in emergency medicine Dr Fergal Hickey said there is a serious potential for influenza to spread as long as patients remain on trolleys in A&E departments nationwide.

"Influenza is here, but it has not kicked off at the rate we expected," Dr Fergal Hickey said.

"The number of delay discharges fell from about 825 to 700 in recent days but that is still unacceptably high.

"This number is fundamentally the issue that is driving the numbers of patients on trolleys up," he continued.

"Unless [these patients] can be moved to wards or back into their communities or homes, there is a serious potential for the flu to spread."

Read more: Do you really have the flu?

Dr Hickey also said he believes the A&E crisis means the health services are already behind when it comes to an outbreak like influenza.

"I think that's fair to say that we're on the back foot, we do not have the capacity in the hospital system to manage what is coming through the door," he said.

"Elective surgeries are being cancelled, patients are still on trolleys. These hospital issues are driven by the failure to move patients tha should be looked after in the community.

"There is a season that flu tends to visit us and this is the season.

"If it wasn't flu, it'd be the winter vomiting bug, there was the risk of Ebola, but influenza is far more infectious than Ebola," he continued.

"It can spread very effectively in confined spaces, and people in emergency departments and hospitals are very vunerable, that's the reason they're in hospital in the first place."

Read more: Got the flu? Just stay at home and don't pass on the misery - doctors

Meanwhile, doctors are warning that most people who get the flu should stay at home and not risk infecting others.

Only people with serious underlying issues, such as heart disease treatments that lower the immune system, or cancer, HIV and Hepatitis C, will need hospitalisation, said Prof Patrick Plunkett, medical director of St James's Hospital in Dublin.

St James's, along with Cork University Hospital and the Mercy Hospital in Cork, is fighting flu outbreaks in a number of wards and have imposed visitor restrictions.

People at home who believe they may have the flu are advised to first contact their GP by phone, rather than visit the surgery or hospital emergency department, to get the best advice.

A spokeswoman for St James's Hospital said planned admissions are severely curtailed, to allow for a small volume of time-critical admissions. The intensive care unit remains closed to planned surgical cases.

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