The number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 this week is likely to reach double the numbers at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic here, HSE chief Paul Reid has warned.
The health service will come under increasing strain in the early part of this week, as the numbers requiring in-patient treatment has given rise for concern.
That pressure has already been seen at Letterkenny University Hospital in Donegal yesterday evening where at least seven patients had to be assessed in a queue of ambulances outside because there was no space for them in the Emergency Department.
All of the patients are understood to have respiratory issues.
Figures released yesterday showed the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) was notified of 6,888 new Covid-19 cases, with 1,452 patients hospitalised. A total of 125 people were in intensive care units (ICU).
There had been 100 extra hospitalisations over the previous 24 hours.
In addition, eight new deaths were reported.
Of the cases reported yesterday, 2,088 were in Dublin, 862 in Cork, 469 in Limerick, 405 in Wexford, 320 in Waterford and the remaining cases were spread across all other counties.
“Early this week, we will likely be at double what we had in the peak of last year,” Mr Reid said yesterday, adding there was concern at the rising trend.
He said there were 37 vacant adult ICU beds and 11 vacant pediatric ICU beds across the health system yesterday morning.
Speaking on RTE’s This Week, he said a ‘surge’ agreement reached with private hospitals to access beds and give further capacity for patients had already been triggered.
“Private hospitals are already taking some urgent care, non-Covid care and support, so we have in essence triggered those processes already,” Mr Reid said.
Last night, Neal Donohue, INMO industrial relations officer for the north west, said more healthcare staff were urgently needed in Letterkenny.
"Our members are reporting unprecedented pressure on Letterkenny Hospital. Beds are closed due to staffing shortages and the emergency department is packed.
"We have reached a stage where at least seven patients are being treated in ambulances because there isn't space in the hospital. This is the biggest outbreak the hospital has ever faced."
Speaking on Morning Ireland on RTE Radio One this morning, Mr Donoghue said the whole of Letterkenny Hospital has been under “immense pressure” for weeks.
He continued: “Letterkenny has been under extreme pressure for a number of weeks before Christmas and there just has been no let up. So, they’re trying to run a non-Covid and Covid-positive pathway and it is putting serious pressure on staffing resources. Our staff are reporting burnout.”
A spokesperson for Letterkenny University Hospital said: “Throughout the weekend there has been a large number of patients presenting with suspect or confirmed Covid-19, many of whom required admission to the hospital.”
They said as a result, there were delays in admission for patients going to the dedicated Covid-19 ward and clinical teams assessed patients from ambulances.
Saolta, the hospital group that runs Letterkenny, issued a statement saying staff have been secured to ensure an extra 11 beds can be opened. The hospital says the ambulances are now being released as the patients can be treated in the hospital and Saolta apologised for any stress that the delays caused.
“The hospital has secured additional staff this evening, which enabled it to open a further 11 beds in order to respond to the demand,” they said last night.
Meanwhile the chief executive of one of the country’s largest hospital groups, UL Hospitals, warned the pattern of Covid-19 was rapidly worsening across the mid-west region, with 427 of her staff unavailable for work due to the virus.