As many as one in nine of the State’s entire compliment of intensive care staff are currently out of work due to Covid-19 related leave, according to the Health Service Executive (HSE)’s chief clinical officer Colm Henry.
Mr Henry said the latest available figures show there are at least 3,800 HSE staff out on Covid-related leave across the country, but added that that figure is expected “to go much higher”, as it dates back to before Christmas.
“Then if you look at our entire compliment of staff that serve in intensive care units, 1,800 in total, and perhaps 200 of those are out on Covid-related leave,” he said on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday.
“We have mandated hospitals to take whatever actions, to redeploy staff, to prioritise urgent time critical services, and that means at this point in time we are seeing the Mater Hospital in severe trouble with one in 10 staff off with Covid-related leave.”
While Mr Henry acknowledged that the Omicron variant of the virus, which is currently the dominant variant, appears to be milder in most cases, he said the “sheer force of numbers” could still lead to hospitals coming under pressure.
“At a public health level, in terms of sheer force of numbers, if enough of those convert through to serious illness, we will see a rise in hospitalisations, and that’s what we’re seeing now in England and Wales where there have been significant rises in hospitalisations,” he said.
“As yet, it is too early to say how many of those will be severe enough to convert through to intensive care needs, but certainly hospitals are coming under pressure now just due to sheer force of numbers.”
Uploaded antigen results
Mr Henry also said that with the PCR system currently overwhelmed, the HSE is working on a system whereby people will be able to upload positive antigen test results into the contact tracing system themselves.
“Certainly we are working on that at the moment,” he said. “At this point in time, the PCR system is linked through to the contact management programme.
“We do not have the system in place for antigen tests but we are working on a system where people can register their own positivity and thereby trigger into the contact management programme and allow those critical actions to be taken.”
Meanwhile, he said it was “highly recommended” for children aged 5-11 who have underlying conditions or are living with children with underlying conditions or adults who are immunocompromised to get vaccinated.
“As of tomorrow we will be inviting parents to self-register their children onto the HSE website where they can access vaccination for the 5-11 age group for those more vulnerable children with underlying conditions,” he said.
“For the wider population of children, we are still advising that they get the vaccine. Clearly they have much less to fear from this virus nevertheless there are unknowns over the long-term implications of this virus. We hope to open that line of registration in the first week or two of January.”