As the number of Covid-19 cases in Donegal is set to edge towards the 250 mark in the coming days, a leading healthcare official has warned that there could be a second wave of Covid-19 in the autumn or even next year.
According to Professor John Laffey, Professor of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine, Galway University Hospital and NUI Galway, “There will still be a large part of the population that has not been exposed and so there is a likelihood that it will come back in the Fall or next year.”
His comments came as he discussed the strategic interventions at Galway University Hospital that are helping to save the lives of some people from Donegal who have contracted Covid-19.
Since the start of the crisis, a number of Donegal patients who have required intensive care treatment, have made the 250km journey to Galway University Hospital.
Professor Laffey confirmed to this newspaper that one of the good stories that had emerged from Galway was that of Donegal patient, Donal Bradley from Buncrana, who was transferred from Letterkenny hospital ICU to Galway for treatment of his Covid illness.
“He has been discharged home,” Professor Laffey said.
He said that Mr. Bradley’s recovery had given hope that most people would survive the disease.
Crucially he also warned that therapies are ultimately needed to treat the illness because Covid-19 would come back if we are not effective in suppressing it now.
Mr. Bradley had been transferred from Letterkenny to Galway as there was not sufficient critical care capacity in Letterkenny University Hospital.
“We are the regional referral service for the Saolta Hospital Group, which includes Letterkenny,” he explained earlier on RTÉ's Morning Ireland programme.
“In the usual course, outside of Covid-19, we would be, where patients from Letterkenny would be transferred if it is for capacity or if there is something that the patient needs that wouldn't be available in the Letterkenny ICU.
“As part of the Covid-19 preparations, we are also taking referrals as well, and we have a mobile intensive care ambulance service that can do that.
“That part would not be so different inside or outside the pandemic.”
Asked about ICU capacity in Galway, he replied: “We have had the benefit in Ireland and in Galway of having time to plan, and I think that has been very helpful, and useful.
“We have increased our capacity, and we have a plan to increase our capacity and we have also changed how we manage patients within the ICU.
“At present, we have an ICU part for people who have Covid-induced critical illness, and we have a second part for the other critically ill patients.
“What we are finding is that we are still within our capacity, and still able to manage the numbers that we have.”
A lot of this was down to people practicing social distancing and helping to suppress the numbers of people in the community, because they hadn't seen the huge peak that had happened in other European countries.
He added that at present Galway had 30 ICU beds on call, followed by a stage by stage surge plan to a stage four where they can have over 50 beds open.
As to the surge he further explained that it was an unknown quantity as they did not know how widespread the disease was, at a community level, on a less severe level.
He also issued an important caveat regarding the disease: “There will still be a large part of the population that has not been exposed and so there is a likelihood that it will come back in the fall or next year,” he said.
Tony Canavan, the chief executive of the Saolta University Health Care Group also explained the concept of a western seaboard approach to Covid-19.
"Last week in Letterkenny [University Hospital] for example, its ICU reached capacity so the next person who required ICU care was transferred to Galway because it was quiet.
“We have taken patients from Letterkenny, Portiuncula (Ballinasloe), and Mayo University Hospitals in the last week.
“One of our strategies is we have our hospitals working together to provide the best service. We are not just managing individual sites, we are looking at the whole group.
“That co-operation gives us all confidence in the system,” he told the local Galway Advertiser newspaper.
No specific numbers
The Saolta group, who operate the acute hospitals along the western seaboard including Letterkenny, Sligo and Galway, would not reveal how many other Donegal patients had been transferred to date to Galway.
But they did say in a statement to the Democrat/DPP: “All hospitals have surge plans in place to manage the need for increased critical care capacity due to Covid-19.
“Hospitals will also continue to transfer patients across hospital sites to ensure patients have access to the care they require and also to ensure critical care capacity can be maintained.”
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