Irish hospitals “won’t cope this winter” amid a so-called “twindemic” of COVID-19 and flu, the General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has warned.
Every winter sees demand for healthcare shoot up as people catch flu. However, the HSE is concerned that a combination of flu and COVID-19 could put some 20,000 people in hospital.
“We’re anticipating that our hospitals - that are already overcrowded - will not cope this winter,” Phil Ní Sheaghdha, General Secretary of The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, told Newstalk Breakfast.
“That’s why we’ve asked for an early agreement with private hospitals so that we can make sure that acute services are not overwhelmed to the point that if you’re a patient waiting for a procedure today that you’re getting a phone call to say, ‘Sorry, we don’t have a bed and we’re cancelling your procedure.’
“We believe that can be managed better and that the private hospitals in this country must be asked to… be part of the overall health service this winter with a view to making sure that the elective admissions can at least not have cancellations”.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha also said that the crisis was “predictable” given the already stretched nature of the health service and that a graduate brain drain from the HSE was exacerbating the problem:
“We don’t have an oversupply of nurses,” she explained wearily.
“We’re in fact quite short and therefore the graduates are very key to staffing our wards and keeping beds open.”
She continued that many young Irish nurses leave to work in Britain’s NHS where pay and conditions are considered superior:
“We know the UK has a huge shortage of nurses and that they’re making very attractive packages available - accommodation and extra bonuses when they work in and around large cities.”
This is particular alluring considering the severity of Ireland’s housing crisis:
“We believe that accommodation costs are so high now that it is going to be impossible for people who start on a low salary to have accommodation in and around hospitals where they’re desperately needed,” Ms Ní Sheaghdha continued.
“And considering the housing crisis… that also obviously affects student nurses and new graduates and qualified staff.”
Main image: Intensive care nurses caring for COVID-19 patients. Picture by: Robert Michael/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa