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'Challenging winter ahead' for health service, says IMO president

Rising cases of Covid-19 and other respiratory viruses pose difficulties for an “exhausted” health system.

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THIS WINTER WILL be a challenging season for the health service in Ireland, the president of the Irish Medical Organisation has said.

Increasing transmission of Covid-19 and other respiratory diseases coupled with staff shortages will make for a difficult winter, according to Dr Ina Kelly.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Dr Kelly said that easing restrictions and “opening up, which of course the country wants to do, is allowing more respiratory viruses to spread again”.

“We were spared of an influenza outbreak last winter because the closure of society in a lot of ways protected us from Covid but also from influenza. This winter, we’re not going to have that protection, so we’re going to potentially have many respiratory viruses and it will be harder to diagnose whether it’s Covid-19 or what else it is,” Dr Kelly explained.

“It’s going to be a challenging winter ahead for acute hospitals and general practitioners.”

Dr Kelly said hospitals are “already starting to get overcrowding”.

“We can’t afford overcrowding because Covid isn’t gone and there’s also the danger that we’re going to get a new variant so we don’t know how that would affect us, that could be very serious, and that’s one thing we have to be prepared for,” she said.

Doctors are “already exhausted, there aren’t enough of them, and they’ve already been working much longer hours than they are supposed to”.

Public health officials reported 1,508 new cases of Covid-19 yesterday evening.

206 patients with Covid-19 were in hospital, including 33 people in ICU – a minor decrease from 217 and 31 respectively the day before.

The overall increase in cases and hospitalisations in recent weeks spells difficulties for the health service, Dr Kelly said.

We’ve got increasing levels of Covid in the community and therefore there are going to be hospitalisations and increasing levels of hospitalisations, but also all of the delayed care from the last year and a half is has to be dealt with at the same time and poeple have got to a point where they can’t wait any longer for the care they need.”

“Delayed care causes small complications and more complex care,” Dr Kelly said.

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“It was in crisis before Covid-19 and that made the Covid situation worse for Ireland because the health service didn’t have the capacity to look after people – we had to have probably stricter lockdowns because of the lack of capacity in the health system which has been going on for years,” she said.

She pointed to aninsuffient number of hospital beds, doctors and specialists, as well as financial struggles for GPs.

Current investment in the health service is “not matching the needs of the population”.

“When you’ve underinvested for generations, it takes a lot of heavy investment for a while to catch up,” Dr Kelly said.

“The population is getting larger and older, so we need more investment,” she said.

As of Monday, over 6 million vaccines have been administered in Ireland – 3.4 million first doses and 2.7 million second doses.

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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