The Health Service Executive says it has no immediate plans to deploy surge capacity in response to increasing pressure on intensive care (ICU) beds in the latest Covid-19 wave.
Just 11 ICU adult beds and one paediatric ICU bed were available in hospitals across the State on Sunday night as Covid-19 patients accounted for more than a quarter of total capacity. Seventeen hospitals had no free ICU beds.
“The safety-net option of being able to scale additional beds up to provide intensive care remains in place,” a HSE spokesman told The Irish Times, but this is “not happening at the moment”.
But the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) claimed there were “significant capacity issues” in ICU and many hospitals were preparing to scale up surge capacity.
Extra capacity would have to be found in the private sector as the situation in acute hospitals was becoming “increasingly dangerous” for patients and staff, the union said.
ICUs are likely to come under further pressure over the coming week due to a steep rise in hospitalised virus patients. The 76 new patients admitted on Sunday was the highest daily figure since early February.
Severely ill patients can be treated in hospital outside ICU but the INMO said this was “not optimum”.
There were 470 Covid-19 patients in hospital on Sunday night, including 74 people in ICU.
A senior Government source said that the burden on hospitals was “always a factor” considered ahead of any reopening of society.
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“Options around capacity, if required, could well be discussed,” the source said, adding: “In general the HSE always has surge options if it gets to that.”
There is concern in Government at the rise in Covid-19 cases but also a view that the vaccination programme means the country is “in a different place to a year ago”.
The source said there was a determination “not to go backwards on progress so far”.
The Government will be discussing how vaccine certificates, booster shots and Covid testing can be used as it comes to a decision on Friday’s planned reopening.
There is said to be no decision on the reopening ahead of advice expected to be provided by the National Public Health Emergency Team which is to meet today.
The Government is keen to expand the vaccine booster programme to more vulnerable groups.
However, the “green light” from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is awaited on this. Niac also meets on Monday.
While no decision has been made on which groups would be selected for booster shots, the source highlighted how healthcare workers and older age groups such as the over-60s were “top of the queue” in the initial rollout.
It is also yet to be decided how far down the population age groups a booster campaign would go.
The European Medicines Agency has said third doses of the Pfizer vaccine can be considered for people aged over 18, provided six months have elapsed since their second dose.
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys signalled that the Government will not be reimposing restrictions that have been lifted when it meets on Tuesday to consider if the final easing of Covid-19 measures will take place as planned on Friday.
“We are concerned about the rising numbers and we will be making a decision on Tuesday and we will be looking at the remaining restrictions – we’re not going back. That’s important to say,” she told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.
Ms Humphreys said the Government would look at the use of Covid certs – which have been required for indoor hospitality – and the issue of booster vaccinations. She rejected Opposition accusations that there had been “mixed messages” on workers returning to their offices after deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn suggested people should continue to work from home this autumn and winter.
Ms Humphreys said: “Our policy has been clear. We want a phased return to work and we will continue to work with employers, who I know have been facilitating this.”
There will be a meeting of the three Coalition leaders, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister Eamon Ryan this even