Flu pandemic well-managed so far…

Posted in Blog by saraburke on September 4, 2009

This item was also covered on yesterday’s Drivetime:

This summer was certainly not silly season for health service managers. Between the pharmacy dispute and the flu pandemic, there was no down time for many in the HSE and the Dept of Health. Not to mention the withdrawal of acute and cancer services from Monaghan and Sligo hospitals.

From my perspective, so far it has been well managed. From the beginning there has been, regular, very good, public communication from Dept of Health’s CMO Tony Hollohan and more recently from the HSE’s, Director and Assistant Director of Public Health, Pat Doorley and Kevin Kelleher.

They have each got better with their media communications giving clear information in a non panicky manner about how to prevent and deal with the flu, on sending the kids back to school, giving sensitive information on the deaths to date.

So far there have been two deaths, 815 confirmed cases but significantly more cases as we are not testing for flu anymore. Yesterdays press briefing revealed that the flu pandemic seems to have levelled off with about 1,500 new cases each week. Currently there are 22 in hospital, with four in intensive care.

What lies ahead with flu pandemic is not a question of if but when.

We have or are witnessing wave one, and are just playing a waiting game for wave two – we are lucky in that other countries are ahead of us. Ireland has the advantage that we can track what’s happened in Australia, the US and the UK, so health officials have a good idea of the course the flu will take and can therefore (hopefully) respond more effectively.

There is no question that the flu pandemic will have a huge impact on the country. About 15% will be out of work with it. Most people can stay at home and look after themselves. Just 1% will need hospitalisation. Anti virals are there for those who need them, but most don’t.

Also the vaccines are just arriving, and vaccination will take place in three stages, high risk groups, healthcare staff and mass vaccinations – whole population. Interestingly, politicians and the Minister for Health will not be vaccinated until the rest of the population is. Or so they say… 

The HSE are preparing for 800 critical care beds. Given that there are 11,000 public hospital beds, just 10,000 of them are currently in use, finding 800 beds is a massive task.

So we are pretty well prepared. But we cannot under estimate the impact it could have on a health services. At the moment, there are more bed blockers than ever before (870+). The A&E problem has not gone away.  Yesterday there were 45 waiting in Beaumont, 22 in Our Lady of Lourdes, Drogheda. While the numbers actually presenting to A&E are down (possibly due to increase charge introduced in October budget to €100), the number of admissions are remaining the same.

The flu could be the tipping point for the health system already under pressure.

Nest week I’ll deal with impact of the cuts, recession and McCarthy on the health system. All thoughts and experiences from the front line welcome…

One Response

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  1. magnumlady said, on September 4, 2009 at 9:30 am

    The health service is already in crisis.
    The poor children waiting for vital surgery at Our Ladys Hospital, in Crumlin. My son is one of them, I wonder if he will ever get the surgery he needs.
    As for the swine flu my daughters school is only in the process of installing hand gel, this should have been done before the children went back to school.

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