Doctors may be forced to choose between patients for ICU beds

UL Hospitals Group chief executive Colette Cowan

by Bernie English

[email protected]

SENIOR doctors at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) say they could be forced to choose between patients as the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit runs out of beds.

Intensive Care Consultant Dr Catherine Motherway said that if the virus continues on its current trajectory, the shortage of ICU beds could force doctors to choose between patients.

“We cannot admit 500 people to an ICU if we do not have 500 ICU beds,” she said.

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“What people need to understand is that neither I nor any of my colleagues want to be put into a position of choosing between a 40-year-old and a 50-year-old and deciding which of them gets a bed.”

She was speaking as UL Hospitals Group chief executive Colette Cowan warned that patients waiting for non-emergency procedures at UHL are likely to see their surgeries cancelled and procedures put on hold from this week.

She added that projections of up to 200,000 cases of the virus in December “would cause the collapse of the health service.”

With 130 staff currently off work in the UL Hospitals Group due to Covid, Professor Cowan said derogation for healthcare workers from the rule to self-isolate for five days if a member of their household becomes infected with Covid, was necessary, adding: “We need them on the frontline.”

And she suggested that using private hospitals for some surgeries and procedures is under consideration.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s ‘News At One’ recently, Professor Cowan said ICU beds in the Limerick hospital are now full and a surge plan is in place.

“We’re predicting that our elective work will have to stall to allow us to deal with the surge in ICU.”

Promising that the situation will be monitored and kept under review, she said patients will be contacted about cancellations.

“Time-sensitive care and cancer surgery will go ahead but other options in private hospitals are being considered for elective procedures.

“The surges in the last month are consistently growing and while we can manage to a certain level, a lot of people are attending emergency departments for other illnesses”.

The hospital’s surge plan allows for three more high dependency unit beds to be “flexed” into ICU beds but this will take staff away from other areas in the hospital.

“I don’t want to excuse or minimise trolley waits, but patients need to be looked after,” she said.

If the Covid-19 surge translates to a predicted 200,000 additional infections in December, it would cause the collapse of the health service, she said, adding that staff are “very tired”.