Only we can help ourselves

What happens next in relation to Covid-19 infection in Ireland is now largely down to how we each all work together by staying apart, writes Lloyd Mudiwa

I was disappointed to read infectious disease specialist at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Prof Sam McConkey’s warning in the press earlier this week that house parties being held around Ireland are “very, very bad” and a “disaster” for efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.

This was on the back of a second house party held by my children’s neighbours over the weekend, which was attended by certainly more than four people, with the first one held at the height of the full lockdown.

We all know people, colleagues, friends, and relatives, who are sick and/or dying from Covid-19.

Not to mention that while the number of new cases of coronavirus is declining, it would be even more positive were the proportion arising from “unexplained community transmission” eliminated before further easing of the restrictions.

A significant scale of unexplained community transmission would mean there is still uncontrolled spread of the virus, which could feasibly exponentially rise over just a matter of a few days.

Healthcare workers
Illness, fatigue and social issues among healthcare workers in the line of duty all threaten the healthcare system’s capacity to manage the anticipated increase in non-Covid-19 clinical services such as elective surgical activity required for the phased resumption of surgical services.

All the deaths have so far been presented as statistics and charts. According to newly published Health Protection Surveillance Centre data, as of midnight May 31, there have now been a total 1,658 Covid-19-related deaths out of 25,066 confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland.

While I would not go as far as to call them ‘covidiots’, what those people hosting parties/partying are forgetting is that this pandemic is not simply about numbers, it is about real people. They too together with/or their loved ones could easily fall victim to the infection.

While many of those who would have been on patient wait lists may have died in the ongoing pandemic, but what about those who have been added to non-Covid-19 services such as mental health owing to the effects of the pandemic? Also, what about cancer screening (if you are not doing the diagnostics you do not pick up the early cancer, while its symptoms are still relatively more manageable) or heart disease?

This is after the just-published first study to provide an objective, accurate, and granular real-time measurement of GP workload in Ireland, which demonstrated the significant volume and variety of work undertaken by GPs, confirmed what “GPs on the ground already know and experience — that they are working longer hours with increased non-clinical demands”, according to Irish College of General Practitioners President Dr Mary Favier.

Varley said the agreement was necessary but hasty “we could have done better by putting more practical arrangements in place”.

Furthermore, many who are sick in the community have stayed away worried they might catch the virus.

What will happen?
The courage and humanity of the Health Service Executive (HSE) workforce during this pandemic has helped to attract scores of new recruits, and the Irish health system is thriving for now thanks to our “ordinary superheroes”.

But what will happen to the HSE when the clapping for these scrub- and gown-wearing heroes stops? Will the reverence and gratitude (owing to them for coming to Irish society’s rescue) wane? Will the extra funding for the Irish health system dry up?

The hope as the lockdown eases is that all people will ultimately drift back to the HSE for whatever ails them, and the service will be able to help them all.

Do we have the right infrastructure in Ireland to recover from this pandemic? How can we make sure our health service is ready for the next outbreak before/if it comes?

Already the Irish Hospital Consultants Association Council (IHCA) Secretary General, Martin Varley has warned the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that there was insufficient flexibility or agility in how the hastily put together private hospitals agreement worked to provide extra hospital capacity in practice.

The IHCA has suggested the lack of sufficient practical arrangements on the implementation of the agreement resulted in suboptimal use of private hospitals capacity, while maintaining that bed utilisation had been running at about 30 to 40 per cent when the health service could have used private hospitals to the extent of 60 to 80 per cent.

Real failure
The real failure had been the inability to involve all three main parties — the health service management, the private hospitals and private practice, as well as other hospital consultants’ representatives in the negotiations, IHCA Council member and Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Mr Maurice Neligan, told Committee members.

There was now an urgent and essential need to utilise these capacities to their optimum and prevent in the coming months a surge of non-Covid-19 emergency cases which hospitals would not be in a position to cater for at such volumes due to the delays in care.

Let us not forget that it will only be possible for the Irish health service to help everyone who might require its services in the short to mid-term — at least for the foreseeable future — only if we help ourselves.

Although it is frustrating and challenging, it cannot be overstated how simple measures such as the two-metre physical distancing are having a huge effect.

We do not need to see any more people unnecessarily getting sick and dying.

But whatever happens now, the commitment of the Irish healthcare workers can never be forgotten and ought to be forevermore supported.

lloyd.mudiwa@imt.ie

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