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Two patients flown abroad for treatment as system struggles

TWO Irish patients who are critically ill with swine flu have been flown abroad for specialist treatment.

The two men are now undergoing 'last-resort' treatment in Aarhus Hospital in Denmark.

They are suffering severe respiratory complications due to flu while in intensive care in Limerick and Cork .

Brian Marsh, consultant in intensive care medicine in the Mater Hospital said that he was aware that the two patients travelled abroad for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) treatment, which provides oxygen to the blood.

Although the facility is available at the Mater, only three patients at any given time can avail of this treatment.

"It's very expensive and it's a highly expert programme which requires a lot of training," he said.

The procedure uses an artificial heart-lung machine to take over the work of the lungs, and sometimes the heart.

But if there is a surge in numbers as seen during the latest swine flu epidemic, patients will be transferred abroad.

Ireland is currently seeing record levels of flu and it has already claimed the lives of two people this winter.

Hospitals across the country struggled with 468 patients lying on trolleys and chairs again yesterday morning, despite claims that closed beds have been opened.