Limerick hospital boss warns pattern of COVID-19 “rapidly deteriorating” as 427 of her staff are unavailable for work due to virus

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UL Hospitals Group chief executive Colette Cowan

THE Chief Executive of one of the country’s largest hospital groups, UL Hospitals, has warned the pattern of COVID-19 is rapidly worsening across the mid west region, as 427 of her staff were unavailable for work due to the virus.

According to latest HSE figures published Saturday, January 9th, there were 109 confirmed cases of coronavirus at the group’s main hospital, University Hospital Limerick (UHL).

There were 5,680 new notified cases in the mid west during the past 14 days (26 Dec-08Jan).

Over a four-day period, from last Tuesday to Friday, the number of staff unavailable or work within the UL Hospital Group, across Limerick, Clare and Tipperary, had jumped from 140 to 427.

In an e-mail sent to politicians last Friday, Colette Cowan, the chief executive of the Group, warned that “the pattern of the disease across the region over the holiday period has been one of rapid deterioration” and the 14-day incidence rate across the region had also “increased significantly”.

“As of January 5th, Limerick’s 14-day incidence rate was 1113.4 per 100,000; The national average was 674.36 per 100,000. This is the type of exponential growth we had hoped never to see and will mean an increase in hospitalisations and critical care admissions in the weeks ahead,” Ms Cowan warned.

 

The Group’s Crisis Management Team and Executive Crisis Management Team continue to meet to plan and put into effect responses to the ongoing public health emergency, as “the number of patients being admitted with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 has increased significantly”.

Ms Cowan advised politicians the total number of COVID-19 patients within the group as of last Wednesday “exceeds the maximum experienced during the peak of the first wave” and that “in recent days we have been admitting about 10 new Covid patients per day”.

Covid and non-Covid critical care patients are being treated on two floors at UHL, designated for intensive care and high dependency patients as part of UHL’s plan to open/convert additional critical care beds as required.

“Our staff retrained and redeployed to support this critical care surge capacity during the first wave and are ready to do so again when required if demand exceeds current capacity,” Ms Cowan said.

An additional six high dependency beds, funded for UHL under the Winter Plan 2020/2021, “are available for use immediately in response to the surge”.

The majority of scheduled surgery and outpatient appointments across the Group, bar University Maternity Hospital Limerick, has been deferred to outbreaks of the virus.

“There are currently 427 staff across the Group unavailable for work due to Covid-19. This includes staff who have tested positive for Covid-19 either through workplace or community transmission; those who are close contacts of positive cases and staff who are showing symptoms and who are staying off work in line with the public health guidance in respect of Covid-19.”

In the past week attendances at the Emergency Department at UHL ranged between 138 and 205 patients per day, and Ms Cowan warned “the incidence of Covid-19 in the community means that we are facing significant challenges in discharging patients to long-term care facilities and stepping patients down for rehabilitation”.

However, highlighting positives, Ms Cowan noted that it had opened a 60-bed block at UHL and this “additional single-room capacity is having a very real immediate impact in allowing us to isolate and treat Covid-19 patients” with “two of the three wards currently designated Covid-19 wards”.

Ms Cowan also noted “some hope for the region with the delivery to UL Hospitals Group of more than 1,500 Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines this week”, with 650 staff in total vaccinated up to last Tuesday.

“By the end of the week, with plans at an advanced stage to start vaccination at Croom, Nenagh and St John’s Hospital, it is envisaged that some 1,500 staff will have received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.”

Ms Cowan advised however that “while there is a renewed sense of hope, it is vital that we do not become complacent during this dangerous new phase of the pandemic”.

Speaking to this reporter Saturday, Limerick Fine Gael Councillor, Daniel Butler, said he was concerned Limerick and other parts will exceed their ICU bed capacity within days: “The scale of transmission at the moment is hugely significant and we’ve seen, day by day, increases in admittance to ICU and into the hospital system, I’d be very worried about ICU bed capacity.”

“My gut tells me that we might exceed bed capacity next week, that would be my real concern, the figures are only going in one way at the moment, and I think we could be looking at dipping into surgical capacity that the HSE has secured,” Cllr Butler said.