Ireland’s first National Isolation Unit was opened yesterday by the Minister for Health, at the Mater Hospital in Dublin. The unit has 12 beds in total and will be used for patients who contract highly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, SARS and pandemic influenza. It will also be used to treat patients with other infections including HIV, hepatitis B & C, meningitis, MRSA and malaria. This all sounds pretty good until you stop to think about it more deeply.
Firstly, I was amazed to learn that this highly specialised ‘state-of-the-art’ facility with it’s own infectious diseases multidisciplinary team, is actually the first of it’s kind in the whole country. Six of the isolation beds in this new unit will be under negative pressure to help prevent airborne transmission of infection by microscopic droplets. Two of the isolation rooms will have different air handling systems to enhance infection control. It begs the question as to what has been happening with highly infectious patients up until now? I know that some of bigger public hospitals already have isolation units which are used to hoard all the MRSA infected patients together but they do not have any specialised facilities.
And secondly, with healthcare associated infections (HCAI) such as MRSA and C. diff now endemic in Irish hospitals, it strikes me that it might make more sense to use the isolation units for the patients who are clear of HCAI’s, to keep them free from contamination?