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Dublin: 20 °C Saturday 30 May, 2020

Debunked: No, GPs aren't giving out 'rescue packs' en masse to asthma and COPD sufferers

A message that is being shared in WhatsApp groups and on social media contains medical advice that is “not safe” according to one GP.

DESPITE APPEALS FROM health officials for members of the public to get their information from official channels rather than social media, misinformation messages continue to be created and shared.

One message that has been widely shared both online and in WhatsApp groups over the last week specifically targets people who have respiratory conditions.

It advises them to contact their GPs to get a ‘rescue pack’, which it states is a five-day supply of a corticosteroid (steroid) and a five-day supply of an antibiotic which can be started immediately if they develop any breathing issues.

The message advises recipients to share the details as it “could help so many people to know”.

Sarah O’Connor, CEO of the The Asthma Society of Ireland told she understands that the social media discussion of rescue packs came from the UK. These packs were reported as a support for people with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or COPD as part of a national coronavirus response.

“The National Health Service (UK) yesterday released a statement indicating that this information is inaccurate and advising patients to continue managing their condition as usual,” O’Connor said.

They have stipulated that, while ‘rescue packs’ for people with illnesses such as asthma or COPD do exist, they have little to do with coronavirus.

Shee said in Ireland, this combination of medication is given to patients who work very closely with their GPs as part of a closesly-monitored self-management plan. 

“They are typically provided to patients with the severest form of asthma or COPD, specifically suitable for patients who are very well versed in managing and understanding their symptoms due to the severity of their condition.

In these circumstances, rescue packs are given with clear and specific instruction and are meant to be used only where symptoms are considerably exacerbated and the patient does not have immediate access to their GP.

She said upon using this medication pack, the patient is obliged to contact their GP within 24 hours to seek further advice and treatment where needed. 

O#Connor warned that misuse or overuse of this medication can have a variety of unintended consequences and can involve risks of a serious nature. 

“They are not for widespread use by asthma or COPD patients and are not recommended as part of a national healthcare response to coronavirus.”

“Asthma and COPD patients in Ireland should continue to manage their condition as advised by their GP, as reaffirmed in relevant communications made by the HSE in recent weeks,” she added. 

There is no evidence that doctors in Ireland are giving out these packs to all asthma or COPD sufferers as a precaution if they develop Covid-19. On the contrary, doctors have advised that such a move would not be safe, given the different needs that each patient would have. 

Dr Keith Swanick, a practising GP and former Fianna Fail Senator, told that he has received several calls from patients with respiratory conditions about these ‘rescue packs’.

“This blanket prescription idea is not safe basically, it breaks every rule in the book,” he said.

He said it would be “unwise” for GPs to prescribe all asthma or COPD patients with the same package of medication as a just-in-case measure that the patient could then decide to take themselves if they were feeling unwell. 

“From my point of view, GPs thankfully know their patients so well and after a quick chat, once we’ve ruled out whether they need a referral for Covid-19, we can use our clinical expertise and the relationship with the patient to decide whether they need a prescription of any kind,” he said. 

We have to make a clinical judgement based on their medical history, their risk factors – if they’re smokers, if they have asthma or COPD. Then of course the reason why this would be a bad idea is that patients may be on other drugs that may interact with those ones. Many older patients are on multiple drugs, for heart disease or diabetes for example. 

Alasdair Fitzpatrick, a GP registrar working in Fermoy, Co Cork, also contacted to express his concern about these messages, which he said his patients had also been speaking to him about.

“It inappropriately advises these people to take the medications early if displaying symptoms,” he said.

“It is definitely doing the rounds here in Cork on social media and we have had a number of consults about it today in the practice. Some of my colleagues in other parts of the county say that they have had similar requests.”

Fitzpatrick said there is some evidence that oral steroids may worsen complications of Covid-19 if given inappropriately.

“Although the evidence relating to steroids and Covid-19 is still only emerging, it is enough that I, and many of my colleagues, have reduced prescription of oral steroids unless we feel they are an absolute necessity,” he said.

“The sooner the message gets out the better and then the less risk of someone suffering avoidable complications.”

The Asthma Society of Ireland has detailed advice on its website, which states the current Covid-19 outbreak does not require any change to what is normal good asthma management.

It also states that there is no need for patients to order extra quantities of medications.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has advised all people looking for information on Covid-19 to follow public health guidelines as outlined on the HSE website.

Health officials have repeatedly asked members of the public to get their information about the coronavirus either from the HSE/Department of Health or from trusted news sources. 

Anyone with symptoms of the coronavirus is advised to contact their GP (by phone) to discuss the need for testing and treatment. The symptoms can be similar to a cold or flu and anyone with these symptoms is advised to self-isolate for 14 days.

You will only be tested if you have a fever or chills and one of the following symptoms:

  • a cough - this can be any kind of cough, not just dry
  • shortness of breath
  • breathing difficulties

Healthcare workers, vulnerable groups and people in contact with confirmed cases who are exhibiting symptoms will be prioritised. 

rescue pack


There is a lot of false news and scaremongering  being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 


Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: 

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