Arctic chill will put even more pressure on hospitals
Hospital A&E departments, which are already under intolerable strain, are facing a week of chaos as the Arctic blast threatens to brings a spike in injury and illness.
As temperatures plunged yesterday the number of patients on trolleys escalated to 638.
There were 255 patients languishing on trolleys for more than nine hours, up from 110 on the same day last year.
Snow and ice will make public paths dangerous and leave people vulnerable to injury, some of whom are expected to need surgery.
Dr Emily O’Conor, spokeswoman for the country’s emergency consultants, said the full impact of the severe weather is unknown.
One of the major hurdles hospitals will face will be trying to get as many staff as possible into work, she said.
“Staff make heroic efforts to get into work but the road conditions may make this a struggle,” she added.
She said the ambulance service is also expected to be under added pressure because people who are afraid to travel on their own will have to rely on this transport.
The elderly are at risk of hypothermia and it is essential relatives and neighbours check in on them, particularly if they live in isolated areas, she warned.
The flu is continuing to circulate at a high level, forcing hospitals to isolate wards despite the scarcity of beds.
Dr O’Conor said the opening of more beds has made little difference to the extreme levels of overcrowding which have seen several emergency departments overflowing for weeks at this stage.
There is already evidence of excess mortality among the elderly this year due to the prolonged flu season and harsh winter.
Seán Moynihan, chief executive of Alone, whose volunteers will be providing vital support to the elderly this week, warned: “Cold temperatures can have a serious affect on many older people, in particular those living alone, those with health issues, and those with limited mobility.”
He said: “Five per cent of Irish people aged over 65 who lived alone were unable to keep their homes adequately warm in 2012. This figure jumped to 9.8pc in 2013.
“Given that 50pc of excess winter deaths experienced in Ireland can be linked to poor thermal efficiency in the dwellings, Alone is urging older people to take extra care and encouraging those who are concerned about their own wellbeing during the cold weather to call for assistance and help if needed.
“A visit from a friend, family member, or neighbour to check on an older person’s heating levels, food supplies and security, as well as to simply offer some company, can make a huge difference.”
People who are not mobile, are over 65 or have a health condition, such as heart or lung disease, should heat their home to at least 18C. Draw curtains at dusk and keep doors closed.