THE number of patients with Covid-19 at Letterkenny University Hospital has significantly increased in the last week putting huge pressure on services.
It comes as health care group, Saolta announced details of its winter plan which aims to improve efficiency within the emergency department.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Saolta CEO, Tony Canavan said Covid-19 cases are expected to continue to rise in the coming weeks.
Last night there were 30 Covid positive patients at the hospital, up from 19 the previous week, making it the second highest among hospitals across the country.
“We are seeing an increase in Covid-19 positive patients in Letterkenny University Hospital over the last two weeks and what we are preparing for in our plan is the likelihood that those numbers will continue to increase as we progress through the winter, possibly up to the month of December,” said Mr Canavan.
“The concern that we have is that we will still have those relatively high Covid patients when we also have the impact of the usual flu that comes with the winter. Having the combination of both of those would put our hospitals under significant pressure.
“Since the start of this year we have seen a very significant increase in the numbers of patients attending the emergency department and then an increase on the number of patients waiting admission on trolleys.
“All of our hospitals have been working closely with the community health services and the ambulance services in their area to come up with plans that make sense for their specific circumstances.
“Letterkenny is a good example of that. Within the hospital they are looking at trying to improve the speed and efficiency to which patients move through the emergency department itself and move through the hospital to make sure we are making the best use of the beds available to us.
“Equally then working with the community to make sure that they can discharge when patients are ready to go home.”
As part of the winter plan four additional emergency medicine consultants have been sanctioned for recruitment by the Minister for Health.
“I think we will struggle to fill those between now and the end of the year but none the less we will be proceeding as quickly as we can and maybe even get locum cover in for some of those posts,” said Mr Canavan.
“In order to move patients through the department quickly you need to have senior clinical decision makers, consultants on site working as part of a team to make those decisions.
“We have really good consultants in our emergency department in Letterkenny right now but what we would like to do is to extend the hours of working. If we can extend the days or the number of days that we have those senior consultants on the floor in the emergency department I think it will improve decision making in the department.”
The key focus of recruitment for the coming winter has been on nursing staff with additional nurses hired through international recruitment as well as the retention of staff that have trained within the hospital.
Saolta is aiming to open an additional thirteen general beds in Letterkenny by next February.
“There are a number of things we have to do to bring those beds on stream but we have the physical space. We are currently recruiting the staff and we have to do some reconfiguration of the services to make room for them but we are aiming for February.”
As part of the winter plan they will also be recruiting AMP staff to enhance the minor injuries service in the emergency department, the recruitment of a GP Liaison Nurse to support the provision of the right care in the right place and the recruitment of staff to support and target weekend discharge.
Mr Canavan encouraged those eligible for the booster vaccine for Covid-19 to avail of it as well as the flu vaccine as we face into a difficult few months ahead for the health service.
“It is one of the decisions we can make individually that could have a significant impact on the hospital services,” he added.