The hours of operation at a new paediatric urgent care centre will remain restricted due to a shortage of senior doctors and consultants.
Opening hours at the centre at Connolly Hospital in Dublin are currently 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday instead of the originally envisaged hours of 8am to midnight seven days a week.
The state-of-the-art facility has been designed to alleviate pressure on other children’s hospitals in Dublin and to provide an alternative to parents who would usually attend emergency departments.
At the launch of the HSE Winter Plan on Thursday, Dr Ciara Martin – paediatric executive lead of Children’s Health Ireland – said introducing the longer hours is being delayed due to a lack of staff.
It's a hard time for emergency doctors and nurses, they do feel the pressures of working in those departments, and it's a really rough time for families coming into usDr Ciara Martin, Children's Health Ireland
She said: “We need more consultants, doctors, and emergency medicine radiology hasn’t been cleared yet. I think once we get that we’ll be able to be open to seven days.”
Dr Martin said a spike in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract, will remain at peak for the next three to four weeks.
The spike has led to a significant increase in children and young people presenting to emergency departments.
Dr Martin said if parents bring unwell children to the urgent centre at Connolly Hospital, they may be advised to come back in the morning if their illness is minor.
She said: “It is staffed by experienced nurses and advanced nurse practitioners and consultants. It is there for minor illness and injury, so what we’re saying to our families sometimes when they come in to us on the busier evenings or into emergency departments, is that if it is not acute; you’re waiting here for four or five hours and we’ll see you but maybe if you would like to come back in the morning to our urgent care centre when we can see you in a more timely manner.
“In urgent care, waiting time there will be about one-and-a-half, two hours at the moment. The focus really is on seeing if children can see the right professional quickly, we can get them through the system quicker.
“It’s a hard time for emergency doctors and nurses, they do feel the pressures of working in those departments, and it’s a really rough time for families coming into us.
“So we say if you think your child can wait till the next morning and that it’s a minor illness or injury, then we have the new unit that you could avail of.”
Meanwhile, HSE assistant national director for health protection Dr Kevin Kelleher said it is currently the peak flu season but no deaths from influenza have been reported so far this winter.
He said the flu rate is highest among those aged between 50 and 64, but it will begin to spread to younger people and infants towards the end of the year.
The HSE said emergency departments are very busy and trolley numbers are up compared to the same time last year.
It said there were 423 patients waiting on trolleys in acute hospitals at 8am on Thursday, which is 33% higher than on the same day last year and 20% higher than on the same day last week.
Emergency department attendances and admissions for all patients are higher than the same week last year, with a 6.3% increase this week compared to this time in 2018.
For patients aged over 75, attendances and admissions are 12% higher this week compared to this time last year.