724 medically fit patients 'trapped' in hospitals as fears grow for flu season

Overcrowded hospitals are being crippled by hundreds of patients who are occupying beds despite being medically fit to be discharged – as experts are predicting one of the most severe winter flu seasons in decades.

There are currently 724 patients occupying hospital beds as they wait for proper step-down supports.

The vital supports range from homecare to a nursing home place as well as specialist rehab centres and home adaptation needs.

However, the patients are trapped in hospital until they can be safely discharged, a problem that has worsened over the summer as the HSE had to ration funds for nursing-home care and homecare.

Medical professionals are now worried a severe, long-running flu outbreak could wreak further havoc on acute hospitals already stretched beyond the limit with bed capacity.

Concern over the potential severity of the 2019/2020 winter flu is focused on experiences in Australia. Irish and European health chiefs annually gauge the likely severity of the forthcoming flu season on experience in Australia, whose winter falls earlier.

Australia, where winter has just ended, suffered an exceptionally early onset of the flu season which lasted far longer than normal with the flu strain involved proving particularly severe.

The number of so-called delayed discharges – previously known as bed blockers – reached an all-time high of 746 in recent months but the release of funding for more nursing-home places in the last fortnight has brought some slight relief.

Figures obtained by the Irish Independent show there are 76 of these patients in Beaumont Hospital, 64 in St James’s Hospital and 41 in the Mater Hospital.

It is also an issue outside Dublin with 29 of these patients occupying beds in Cork University Hospital, 22 in Limerick and 21 in Waterford. There are 18 delayed discharges in Letterkenny and 17 in Cavan.

As the pressures of the trolley crisis escalate over winter, along with flu-related admissions, hospitals will be in dire need of extra beds.

A special quadrivalent or four-way flu vaccine is now being rolled out for the 2019/2020 winter flu season with the HSE urging vulnerable groups, especially the elderly and pregnant women, to get vaccinated.

The Australian Department of Health confirmed that 93pc of reported winter flu cases involved influenza A – with the virus strain H3N2 proving dominant. It resulted in a particularly nasty bout of the flu.

US health chiefs confirmed they have just experienced their first outbreaks of 2019/2020 winter flu cases – with a four-year-old child dying in California from the virus.

American doctors expressed concern at a fatality so early in the winter flu season.

Irish hospitals experienced major difficulties with overcrowding last winter with hospitals in Cork, Limerick, Portlaoise and Dublin particularly badly hit – despite the fact the winter flu season was assessed as being only of “moderate severity”.

The first cases of the 2019/2020 flu strain were confirmed here over three weeks ago.

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