The HSE doctor says there is a link between alcohol availability and illness as the government plans to extend pub and nightclub opening hours under pressure

dr HSE Chief Clinical Officer Colm Henry said today there was a link between greater alcohol availability and people with acute and chronic illnesses after being asked for his opinion on plans to extend pub and nightclub opening hours.

Hospital emergency rooms struggle with winter pressures. He was asked if he was concerned about plans to keep pubs open from 10.30am to 12.30pm and nightclubs to operate until 6am from next year, with restricted drinks sales in shops and off-licences also relaxed.

The Irish Independent reported last week that Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly failed to share a memo from his own Department of Health in Cabinet saying the moves would lead to more damage and pressure on health services.

Today said Dr. Henry: “There is an association between access and availability of alcohol, whether through licensing or otherwise, and acute intoxication or chronic health problems.”

He said public health doctors “reported to me about health protections and concerns about alcohol’s impact on society.”

He added: “We know that a proportion of people become acutely ill, and for some of them this also contributes to acute and chronic illnesses.

“Clearly any public policy must recognize the morbidity associated with alcohol and it is for the Chief Medical Officer to advise the Government.

“Our job is to mentor people and give them the right advice about drinking.

“We’re a health organization and we need to be concerned about alcohol consumption.”

Meanwhile, a patient died of the flu last week as cases rose 24 percent and 43 people were hospitalized with the virus, including two in intensive care.

The figures, released by the HSE at its winter plan briefing, come amid fears that a surge in flu could occur in the coming weeks, along with Covid-19 and cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, which are mainly very affected, part of the triple threat will be small children.

It is feared that the BQ1 form of Omicron and related sublines could lead to a further spike in infections later this month and into December.

They now account for more than a quarter of the virus cases circulating here.

The number of RSV cases rose 22 percent in a week, reaching 408 last week and 189 were hospitalized.

However, the number of Covid-19 cases reported by PCR testing fell to 1,986 from 2,014 the previous week.

About 424 patients with Covid-19 were hospitalized, down from 448.

The number of Covid-19 outbreaks in hospitals rose to 20, up 43 per cent in one week, but outbreaks in care homes were falling.

dr Henry said that “the potential remains for a new Covid variant of concern, leading to a further rise with worsened effects if it causes more severe disease or limited vaccine efficacy”.

While several of the new Omicron offshoots are interesting variants, none have yet been declared as a variant of concern, he added.

There is also not much concern that the BQ1 form of Omicron will lead to serious illnesses, although it is more easily transmitted.

He added that “to date, the effectiveness of the vaccine against serious diseases continues.”

The defenses’ flood wall still offers strong protection.

He said the number one message to people is to stay home if you have symptoms.

Uptake of third booster shots is highest among those over 65 at 23 percent and lowest among the immunocompromised.

HSE chief executive Stephen Mulvany said at the briefing that with one million patients present so far this year, hospital emergency departments are facing constant and sustained demand.

This represents a 5 percent increase compared to pre-Covid levels, he added.

Population growth and the aging of the population have pushed the figures higher, with a 13 per cent increase in the over 75s, who account for almost one in ten admissions.

He said measures are underway to deal with more people in the community, particularly the frail and elderly.

GPs are gaining more access to diagnostics and there are efforts to expand departments’ capacity for minor injuries, as well as more home care and home care packages.

“Over 900 hospital beds have been put into operation in the past eighteen months,” he added.

There were 408 patients on trolleys this morning and the daily average over the past seven days was 346.

He said a particular focus will be on getting more entry into hospital waiting lists by the end of the year, with early 2024 likely resulting in some scheduled surgeries having to be put on hold due to emergency room pressure.

He encouraged healthcare workers to get vaccinated.

Damien McCallion, chief operations officer, said 590 delayed discharge patients who no longer require medical attention but require step-down care are in hospital, which is 25 percent more than in 2021.

About 80 percent of eligible individuals received their first booster, 39 percent had a second booster, and one in five of those eligible for a third booster received the vaccination. The HSE doctor says there is a link between alcohol availability and illness as the government plans to extend pub and nightclub opening hours under pressure

Fry Electronics Team

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