Reporting by Press Association and Vivienne Clarke.
There are currently 287 patients in intensive care units (ICU) around the country, with the latest figures showing 169 of these to be Covid-19 patients.
The HSE’s Director of Acute Services, Liam Woods, told RTÉ radio’s News at One there are currently 321 ICU beds open and staffed in the health system — including the 287 that are occupied — with a surge capacity limit of up to 350.
This means the health system currently has the capacity to accommodate around 63 further patients in ICU before surge capacity is exceeded.
The health service is running at a shortage of ten per cent of staff at present, Mr Woods added.
The HSE is also seeing fall in the number of people attending emergency departments (ED), and Mr Woods appealed to the public to attend an ED if they suspect a stroke or heart incident.
The Dáil has heard that Covid-19 hospital updates make for “grim reading,” with intensive care (ICU) capacity expected to be used up nationwide by the weekend.
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said the latest reports show 13 hospitals across the country without any ICU capacity remaining, and a further seven with just one ICU bed left.
Over 1,800 people are currently hospitalised with Covid-19, with 149 new admissions seen in the last 24 hours.
“The daily operations update in our acute hospitals is one that makes for very grim reading,” Mr Doherty told the Dáil.
“The latest reports state that there are now 13 hospitals without any ICU capacity and seven other hospitals have only one ICU bed left.
“ICU capacity, we are told, are expected to be used up by the weekend.
“I want to express my solidarity to all the staff and indeed the patients. The staff are facing something that is unimaginable.
“It is a very worrying time, they are overworked, they are exhausted, they are anxious about the period ahead and many of them are angry that they are left in this situation.”
Glimmer of hope
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the situation in the country’s hospitals remained “precarious” but he was hopeful the number of admissions would soon peak.
“Unfortunately it is continuing to deteriorate,” Mr Varadkar warned.
“There is a glimmer of hope. Cases have been falling now for a number of days, we may see the total number of people being hospitalised starting to fall in about a week’s time,” he added.
“What is somewhat encouraging is the number of admissions to hospital yesterday which was 149 but the number of discharges was 128, so the net increase in the last day is much smaller than previous days.
“The best we can do to support our staff is to continue to abide by the restrictions… and do all the things that is being asked of us.
“We need to decrease the number of people getting Covid and going into hospital, and that is the best way we can turn the corner in the situation.
More than double the number of people are currently in hospital with Covid-19 compared to the peak of the first wave in April last year.
With intensive care capacity expected to be used up by the weekend, the HSE has told hospitals to minimise patients’ length of stay and facilitate their discharge “to the fullest extent”, as well as using the private sector to maximise capacity.
HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry has warned that “because of the volume of cases and the longer-than-average times patients spend in hospital, there will be a slow downturn in the numbers in hospital” afterwards.
By next Monday more than 2,000 Covid-19 patients will require hospital care, Dr Henry forecasts. More than 220 of these patients will require critical care, easily using up remaining capacity in the system.