Omicron’s Disruption to Healthcare, Pharmacy and Legal Services Worsens

Disruption caused by measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 is intensifying, amid “unsustainable” pressure on some services as the Omicron wave sweeps across the country.

Despite this, public health officials are increasingly optimistic about the variant’s limited ability to cause serious illness and death, after a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Thursday who said she was “generally optimistic”.

Even amid half-hearted optimism, the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) said the situation remained serious and further pressure on health services was expected. There are also concerns that adhering to restrictions is slipping amid impressions that Omicron is softer, and some concern that those over 30 aren’t showing enough enthusiasm for the booster.

Doctors have warned the government that their vaccine stocks may be out of date, which will likely prompt people aged 20 to 40 to get a booster next week.

With record levels of cases, more departments are being hit by staff shortages.

On Friday, the Association of Psychiatric Nurses said the latest wave had resulted in the closure or reduction of some services, a “huge and unsustainable” reliance on overtime and the willingness of staff to maintain rosters, and that the staff were exposed to hazardous work environments.





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Staff shortages

Peter Hughes, the association’s general secretary, said the situation was very serious and “would become unsustainable if the current membership situation continued or worsened in any way”.

“The pressures experienced come on top of historic staffing shortages across our mental health services which have pushed service delivery to its limits,” he said.

Darragh O’Loughlin, general secretary of the Irish Pharmacy Union, said the Covid crisis had led to “significant pressures” in the sector.

“Each pharmacy will strive to maintain services to patients and the public, but reduced hours and temporary closures cannot be ruled out.”

Dozens of additional voluntary sector ambulances and crews made themselves available to serve acute care inpatients from Friday, following a call from the Health Service Executive. As of Thursday, 260 regular National Ambulance Service staff were absent due to Covid.

Liam O’Dwyer, general secretary of the Irish Red Cross, told The Irish Times that on Friday seven of its 93 ambulances, equipped with trained emergency medical technicians, were due to fill the gaps. Further assistance was made available by volunteers from the Order of Malta and St. John Ambulance.

Courts and prisons

Meanwhile, the ‘unprecedented’ number of judges, lawyers and witnesses unable to attend courthouses due to Covid-19 will cause ‘some disruption’ to court hearings over the next couple of months. weeks, it was announced.

Elsewhere, the Irish Prison Service said all physical family visits would be temporarily suspended from January 10 to 24 due to widespread community transmission of the virus.

It is understood that discussions at Nphet have focused more on mapping a route out of the current restrictions rather than more action before the end of the month. Senior health officials expect the ECDC to release revised guidance next week on removing the need to self-isolate for close contacts. Sources believe contacts may be asked to take antigen tests or wear higher quality masks.

Amid continued pressure on the testing system, government sources said moves were being considered to allow people to upload antigen test results online, rather than seek out a confirmatory PCR test.

A further 21,926 confirmed cases of Covid were announced on Friday, with 936 people hospitalized with the disease and 84 in intensive care.


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