Nurses are calling for the first two weeks of March to be declared and treated as an emergency period in the public health service.
According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), it is ‘extremely concerned' about the pressures health staff will now face following days of extreme weather conditions.
Last week's Storm Emma and Status Red weather warnings led to a major curtailment of services, with all non-essential services and procedures cancelled. In many instances, staff had to walk long distances to work, or sleep at work, in order to maintain a safe level of care for their patients.
The INMO said that there are a number of reasons why the coming weeks will be particularly difficult:
-The adverse weather has led to a delay in discharges and a backlog of patients waiting to be admitted for elective procedures
-Many staff have worked tirelessly over the last few days and will need rest periods. Rosters will have to be rearranged to accommodate this, which may reduce the availability of staff in the short term
-The trolley count for February 2018 was 19% higher than in February 2017. Over 10,700 patients were on trolleys last month, suggesting that hospitals were already overburdened before the bad weather hit.
"The next two weeks must be afforded emergency status. This means extraordinary measures should be put in place to focus on recovering from this adverse weather event, ensuring prioritisation of emergency care. This will require all non-urgent and routine cases to be cancelled during this period," commented INMO general secretary, Phil Ni Sheaghdha.
The HSE has already stated that all non-urgent surgeries are cancelled for Monday (March 5), however, Ms Ni Sheghdha insisted that this must be extended.
"In this crisis, all measures to properly resource and staff the health service must be explored and the assistance of services in the private acute hospitals must also be sought," she said.
She added that the dedication of all healthcare staff and their co-operation with the Gardai, the army and the civil defence ‘is a true example of selflessness and pride in the job they do every day'.
"This is to be commended and the INMO now requires the employer to ensure practical appropriate plans are in place to cope with the aftermath of this crisis."
Meanwhile, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has also paid tribute to health staff and members of the public who assisted staff with practical help, such as transport.
According to IMO president, Dr Ann Hogan, this has been 'a very challenging week', but staff have once again 'demonstrated their professionalism and selflessness as they did all possible to continue to provide care for patients'.
She reminded members of the public that the thaw will bring a new set of problems, not least clearing the backlog of patients which has arisen over the last week.
"We ask members of the public to continue to use Emergency Departments, GP surgeries and out-of-hours services only if they require urgent care," Dr Hogan added.