An estimated 1.3 million people in Ireland are diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening disorder, according to a new survey.
In the last five years, that figure has increased by about 10 per cent to more than 1.6 million.
It is a worrying trend that can be traced to the introduction of a new generation of treatments in the 1980s, but it is now affecting the health of a wider population.
Dr Joanna Gormley, from the University of Limerick, said the statistics are worrying.
“We’re seeing a huge increase in cases and we’re seeing people being put on a waiting list and then having to go on treatment and they’re really going to be at risk,” she said.
“People are starting to get worried because they’re concerned about their health and it’s just become a lot more difficult for people.”
The new data also shows that in the last 10 years, there have been a significant number of deaths in Ireland due to COVID-19.
Deaths in Ireland have been increasing at a rate of about 10 a day, while hospitalisations have increased by more than 50 per cent.
The number of cases in Ireland in the first five months of this year has been 2,000, a number that will almost certainly increase in the coming months.
Dr Gormey said there was a risk of the virus spreading into the rest of the UK.
“This means we’re now dealing with a whole host of problems that we don’t even know about, but which could make it worse,” she told the programme.
Dr Martin Farrar from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence said COVID was “now a global threat”.
“The risk to the UK from this virus is increasing.
That’s why the NHS has been putting a huge amount of resources into dealing with it and we have to protect the UK as best we can,” he said.
In a separate programme on Saturday, the Government said that a major new national COVID response strategy was underway.
It said it was working to build the infrastructure and training for doctors and nurses to respond to COV-19 cases.
The Government said the strategy would be available to all health boards in the UK within the next three years.
It will involve a national COV response plan for all health service sectors including primary care, health, community, social care, social security, prisons and NHS hospitals.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the Government would continue to make “unconventional” use of existing drugs, including some that were not approved for use in the past, and make sure drugs were available at pharmacies in case of emergency.
The minister said: “The Government will ensure that people have the right medicines at the right time, and that we get them to the right places as quickly as possible.”