Flu season to stretch nurses, beds

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 January, 2011, 12:00am

Public hospitals could be short of nurses and beds when the flu season reaches its peak next month, the Hospital Authority warns.

Dr Cheung Wai-lun, cluster services director of the Hospital Authority, said yesterday that though the peak for influenza infections was yet to come, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei, Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung, Tuen Mun Hospital and Tseung Kwan O Hospital were full.

Meanwhile, a three-year-old boy was confirmed as suffering from human swine flu with severe complications yesterday.

The boy showed symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath on January 11 and was admitted with pneumonia to intensive care at Queen Mary Hospital the next day. His condition has improved and he is in the general ward in stable condition.

Dr Hung Chi-tim, chief executive of Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Kowloon Central Cluster, said there were two more confirmed cases of swine flu, officially called A(H1N1), at the hospital. A two-year-old girl and a 21-year-old woman were in critical condition yesterday.

Cheung said public hospitals needed 1,000 to 1,200 more nurses, 5-6 per cent of all nurses, to manage the surge in hospital admissions due to the long and early cold.

Winter was not only the peak season of flu but also of other chronic diseases, Cheung said.

Last week, the number of patients going to accident and emergency units was up nearly 6 per cent compared with the same period last year, Cheung said.

Admission to hospitals had risen 12 per cent, he said. The number of patients admitted to hospital with pneumonia had increased 25 per cent, while patients with heart failure had risen 22 per cent.

Cheung said flu infections usually peaked in March, but the peak was expected to come earlier this year, following Lunar New Year.

If the number of flu cases hit highs next month, some non-urgent surgeries such as orthopaedic operations and gall bladder surgeries would be postponed so more beds and staff could be deployed.

He expected the tight staffing situation would improve by the end of the year, when nurses graduated.

Cheung advised the elderly and patients with chronic diseases to have flu vaccinations.

Dr Thomas Tsang Ho-fai, controller of the Centre for Health Protection, said the peak season for flu infections would last six to eight weeks.

He said there had been a rise in the number of outbreaks in schools, to more than 10 last week.