31 December 2023
By Elaine Murphy
Increase in flu and COVID expected in the coming weeks
- Increasing levels of community transmission leads to jump in number of flu and COVID hospitalisations
- Protect yourself and others – Vaccination and good infection and prevention control measures remain key in reducing transmission
Hospitals in the South/South West Hospital Group (SSWHG) are currently seeing an increase in people with respiratory illnesses attending Emergency Departments (EDs). While our system is responding well, this increasing pressure requires all to play their part in using the right options for care.
Increasing community infection rates will lead to increased risk of outbreaks in hospitals, nursing homes and residential care facilities, potentially affecting the most vulnerable people.
Acute hospitals in the South/South West Hospital Group are as prepared as they can be to deal with the expected rise in attendances and admissions over the coming period.
Hospitals and community services around the region have put a sustained effort into ensuring that they are positioned for the traditional post-Christmas demand. However the rise in flu and COVID infection is very steep, therefore the advice is that members of the public should present at hospital EDs only for major health emergencies and to use all other options in non-emergency situations.
Options for health care over the Bank Holiday include:
- Your Local Pharmacist:https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/2/pharmacy/
- Your local GP (everyone is reminded to check their routine prescriptions ahead of the bank holiday weekend)
- South Doc, the GP Out of Hours Service.
- Injury Units in Cork city, Bantry and Mallow. Seehttps://www2.hse.ie/services/injury-units/
- Emergency Departments are open 24/7 and allemergency and time-critical care for the sickest patients will be prioritised.
It is also still not too late to get vaccinated: people who have not done so should get vaccinated at their GP or pharmacy. If you are unwell you should stay home until 48 hours after your major symptoms have resolved; avoid visiting people who are more vulnerable if you are unwell and especially avoid visiting hospitals or nursing homes. SSWHG and CKCH are also reminding people to practice good infection control including washing hands regularly and covering nose and mouth if you have coughs and sneezes.
Dr Ger O’Callaghan acting CEO South South West Hospital Group said “Rates of COVID and flu are rising now and over the next few weeks, which will put significant pressure on hospitals and Residential Care Facilities in the short term. Our Emergency Departments are expected to encounter significant pressures as a result and we know from experience that a delayed peak in flu season such as we are seeing now, will inevitably lead to further pressures throughout the healthcare system with heightened risk of outbreaks in all facilities and delays in discharging patients to nursing homes or step down facilities if they have flu or COVID.
“This increase in viruses circulating obliges anyone with respiratory symptoms to avoid visiting hospitals and nursing homes if we have respiratory symptoms. Every healthcare setting is assessing the risks locally and monitoring their own local risks, and this may lead them to take additional measures in certain settings, such as the wearing of masks if deemed necessary. Such measures will help protect those who may be more vulnerable to the effects of these infections and avoid impact on services at a very busy time of year. There is no room for complacency and I urge people to follow public health advice – stay at home if you have symptoms and get vaccinated – before we reach the peak of flu season in the very near future.
Vaccination remains the best way to reduce the incidence or these respiratory illnesses. The HSE is urging every eligible person to get vaccinated against flu and COVID as soon as possible. People with long-term health conditions, healthcare workers (HCWs) and children aged 2-17 can avail of free vaccination. See HSE.ie for more information on COVID and flu vaccination and to find where to get your vaccines.
Tess O’Donovan, Chief Officer of Cork Kerry Community Healthcare said: “We want to protect the most vulnerable from COVID-19, influenza and respiratory infections. Our Hospitals are under pressure with a significant rise in the number of attendances at local Emergency Departments, however they are coping. In the community we want to protect those most vulnerable from respiratory infections in our Nursing homes and residential care facilities. It’s never too late to avail of a COVID-19 and flu vaccination while you can from your GP or local pharmacy. Vaccination remains our best way to reduce rates of infection. If you are unwell please try to consider the alternative options such as your local injury unit or contact South doc on 0818 355 999”ENDS
For mild symptoms – Treat at home
Helpful information is available online on treating common winter illnesses, such as coughs, colds and flu. There is also advice about how to protect yourself and others during winter.
You do not need an antibiotic if you have a viral infection. Antibiotics cannot treat viruses. An increase in respiratory illness in children is expected during the winter period. Most can be managed at home with over-the-counter medicines.
- drink plenty of fluids
- use medicine you buy from a pharmacy or shop without a prescription
- go to How to keep well in winter for more advice.
- advice specifically for children and babies is available here: https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/colds-coughs-children/
Viral infections are very contagious. They can spread quickly before you notice the symptoms. It can be difficult to stop them spreading to vulnerable people. Most of the time you do not need to visit your GP. But trust your instincts. Bring your child to your GP if you are worried about them.
If you have a chronic condition, review your medicine and management of your chronic disease with your public health nurse (PHN), GP or pharmacist.
Useful tips for patients and families
- patients who may need regular prescriptions are urged to get them filled on time
- people are advised to check their first aid boxes are well stocked to treat minor illnesses and injuries
- check the HSE website for useful advice on common illnesses such as colds, coughs, flu, earache and sore throats
- if you are caring for someone that is terminally ill, please have medicines that are recommended by your Palliative Care team or GP for situations that could arise.
Non-urgent illnesses – GPs
If your symptoms don’t improve over time, or if they worsen, call your GP. Your GP can help with non-urgent illnesses. Make sure you are registered with a GP, check out the GP finder here. Know your urgent GP out-of-hours arrangements and contact details.
If you urgently need to see a GP outside of their clinic hours, you can contact your local GP out-of-hour service. You must make an appointment. There is no drop-in facility.
However, if your symptoms are more severe and you can’t wait for an appointment with your doctor, consider your other options.
Injuries unlikely to need hospital admission – Injury units
Injury units can treat many of the injuries people go to the emergency department for. For example, broken bones, dislocations, and minor burns.
You can get treatment such as x-rays, plaster casts, and wound care in an injury unit.
If they cannot help with a particular problem, they will direct you to where you can get the right help.
For details of locations, opening times, list of injuries and ages that can be treated at an injury unit, go to https://www2.hse.ie/services/injury-units/
When you arrive at an injury unit, you will be:
- registered and assessed by the nursing team
- treated by a doctor or advanced nurse practitioner (a specially trained nurse) depending on the care you need
- given details of any follow-up appointments you may need in the injury unit
- referred on to other services if needed
You do not need an appointment.
There is no charge if you have a full medical card or have a GP referral letter. Otherwise it costs €75 to attend an injury unit.
Life-threatening emergencies – Emergency Departments
Emergency Departments (EDs) deal with life-threatening emergencies. Emergency departments are busy. You may have to wait a long time to be seen. The sickest people are seen first.
Life-threatening emergencies include things like, if someone is breathless; is feeling unwell and getting sicker very quickly; has not peed in over 12 hours and does not need to pee. Other examples include when someone is not feeling well and has become confused and agitated; is very pale with cold hands and feet; is dizzy when they sit up or unable to stand; has developed a rash that does not disappear when pressed down.
Getting vaccinated is the most effective way of preventing infections. You can get the COVID vaccine if you are 50 and over, immunocompromised and have long-term health conditions. A booster vaccine is recommended during pregnancy.
COVID vaccines are also available for children aged 6 months to 4 years who have a health condition that puts them at high risk of severe illness if they get COVID.
The flu vaccine is recommended if you are 65 and over. The children’s flu vaccine for 2-17 year olds is also available now. The pneumococcal vaccine (PPV23) which protects against pneumonia, septicaemia and meningitis is also available free of charge from participating GPs for people aged 65 and older. Vaccines for these people are free and available from the GP and pharmacy. Use the HSE pharmacy finder for vaccine clinics.