Cork experts: Here's how we combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus in the city and county

Cork experts: Here's how we combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus in the city and county
Coronavirus generic

THE coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe has led to unprecedented measures in countries across Europe, as the death toll continues to rise.

The virus has seen Ireland go into partial shutdown — schools, colleges, childcare facilities and cultural institutions are closed; mass gatherings are banned; people have been urged to work remotely where possible and pressure increased at the weekend to close pubs entirely.

People returning to Ireland from known infection sites, anyone who is ill or who may have come into contact with the virus, is asked to self-isolate in a bid to prevent any further spread of the illness.

With widespread fear and uncertainty around the situation, The Echo turned to experts, those on the frontline, for their take on this unprecedented situation.

Professor Anthony Staines, chair of Health Systems at Dublin City University (DCU), said: “We have seen things like this before.

“We can bring it under control here.

“People are talking about 80,000 people dying because of this virus but I think that is way off the mark — I can’t see us having an outbreak on that scale.”

Oliver Plunkett street in Cork City centre on Saturday afternoon at 2. 25pmPicture: Eddie O'Hare
Oliver Plunkett street in Cork City centre on Saturday afternoon at 2. 25pmPicture: Eddie O'Hare

With reports of health workers being among those told to self-isolate after coming into contact with Covid-19, concerns have been raised about hospitals being short-staffed in the face of a global pandemic. Aidan McGrath, Group HR Manager for the HSE, called for the health service, in collaboration with the government and Department of Health, to immediately sanction additional posts across the health sector.

He said it would prove vital in maintaining patient safety and services.

A local consultant in radiation oncology here in Cork highlighted the lengths staff on the ground are going to to ensure they are prepared to face the virus.

“It’s very humbling to see healthcare workers and all hospital staff putting aside their own fears regarding Covid-19 and stepping up to the plate, acquainting themselves with the latest guidance which is changing so rapidly, ensuring the safest practice for patients and staff and re-skilling for what is to come,” said Dr Paul Kelly, consultant at the Bon Secours Hospital.

“There is a calm determination but also concern that we need to keep as many staff as possible at the frontline and rapidly expand capacity for acutely ill patients,” he added.

Dr Brian Turner, a health economist at University College Cork, highlighted the possible impact that chronic underinvestment in the Irish health system over a period of many years may have on the ability of the health sector to respond to the coronavirus.

He explained, however, that authorities in Ireland have acted prudently and the measures introduced last Thursday should help to slow the spread of the virus and may ensure capacity within the Irish health system is sufficient.

Dr Chris Luke, an emergency medicine consultant and senior adjunct lecturer in public health at University College Cork, explained that Ireland’s ability to mitigate the spread of coronavirus throughout the country hinges on public behaviour.

Dr Luke implored people to follow the guidelines set out by the HSE in terms of hygiene practices.

‘Lack of health investment may be disastrous’

Brian Turner, UCC. Photo by Tomas Tyner, UCC.
Brian Turner, UCC. Photo by Tomas Tyner, UCC.

Chronic underinvestment in the Irish health system over a period of many years may limit the ability of the health sector to respond to coronavirus, a health economist at UCC has warned.

Dr Brian Turner “only time will tell” on whether underinvestment in the health sector will have disastrous consequences in the coming weeks and months.

Dr Turner said the Covid-19 situation is an unusual one and there is not a lot of evidence or precedents to draw from.

“The Irish health system saw chronic underinvestment for many years so that has led to a situation where capacity is a major issue, as acknowledged by Slaintecare and the Health Service Capacity Review, both of which call for significant expansion in capacity,” he explained, pointing to both documents that outline the need for more beds and resources across the system.

“Already we have seen scheduled appointments cancelled in order to free up capacity, so while in the short term that will help us to cope with the virus, it will mean further lengthening of waiting times for some patients for non-coronavirus related treatments,” he added.

“It’s perhaps too early to tell on this one as we won’t know for some time how many people will end up being hospitalised,” he said.

“The measures announced last Thursday should help to slow the spread of the virus so that the capacity may be sufficient, but only time will tell on this.

“Either way the effects of the virus on the wider economy will be significant, and certain sectors, in particular, will need a lot of support, but hopefully it will be a case of short term pain, long term gain.

“I think the authorities in Ireland have acted prudently and tried to strike a balance between not delaying too long and not jumping the gun.” 

Virus ‘can be brought under control’ if swift action taken 

Professor Anthony Staines. Picture: David Keane.
Professor Anthony Staines. Picture: David Keane.

THE coronavirus can be brought under control in Ireland, according to a leading expert in the field of diseases.

Professor Anthony Staines, chair of Health Systems at Dublin City University (DCU), explained that, while we cannot control the spread of Covid-19 globally, we can control it in Ireland if we act correctly and swiftly.

Professor Staines has an MSc in epidemiology, the study of how often and why diseases occur in different groups of people, and has completed research in the field of public health, including in the area of infectious diseases.

“We have seen things like this before,” said Prof Staines, addressing the Covid-19 outbreak across Ireland which has killed one person and infected many more.

“We had the Sars outbreak in 2002 and I remember that very well.

“A friend of mine, a doctor, spent four months in quarantine in a hospital in Canada — he was working every day and wasn’t allowed home,” he recalled.

“Sars has gone away — we haven’t seen a human case since 2003 — and if we do this right, we can actually stamp out this virus.

“It’s not tremendously infectious — we’re the only animals that get it — and we could get it under control if we get our act together.

“But we can only control what happens here in Ireland, not in other countries.

“We can bring it under control here,” said Prof Staines.

“The worst epidemic we have ever had in this country was the 1918/19 flu, which was a disaster, terrible and appalling, but only 20,000 people died.

“People are talking about 80,000 people dying because of this virus but I think that is way off the mark. I can’t see us having an outbreak on that scale,” he added.

“People will get this virus and there are a lot more people who have it right now that we don’t even know about across Ireland, and some in Cork, I’d imagine,” he said.

When asked if Ireland is doing enough to stop the spread of Covid-19, Prof Staines said: “We’re not going to know that until after it all and that’s the truth.

“We are doing a lot. As is often the case with these things, you can always do more, but there has to be a balance between telling the population to go and hide in their houses and come out in the autumn, and what we can actually do,” he explained.

Prof Staines highlighted the need for communities to work together during this testing time.

“There’s no point hoarding stuff,” he said.

“This country produces enough food to feed eight times our population, so we’re not going to run out of food.”

“Covid-19 battle will be marathon, not a sprint”

Dr Paul Kelly Consultant Radiation Oncologist at The Bon Secours Hospital Cork
Dr Paul Kelly Consultant Radiation Oncologist at The Bon Secours Hospital Cork

THE battle against Covid-19 will be a marathon, not a sprint, a consultant in Cork has warned.

Covid-19 has killed thousands worldwide, infected many more and caused the lockdown of cities and countries across the globe.

Here in Cork where there have been several confirmed cases, the virus has challenged the way cancer patients are being treated, as they are among the more vulnerable people in society, susceptible to Covid-19.

Dr Paul Kelly, consultant in radiation oncology at the Bon Secours Hospital, explained that the focus has been, and continues to be, on continuity of care for cancer patients in the region but that this unprecedented outbreak has thrown up challenges.

He revealed that staff are working hard and fast to overcome these challenges.

“It’s very humbling to see healthcare workers and all hospital staff putting aside their own fears regarding Covid-19 and stepping up to the plate, acquainting themselves with the latest guidance which is changing so rapidly, ensuring the safest practice for patients and staff and re-skilling for what is to come,” said Dr Kelly.

“In oncology, there is a focus on continuity of care for cancer patients in these unprecedented times and offering patients some reassurance.

“There is a calm determination but also concern that we need to keep as many staff as possible at the frontline and rapidly expand capacity for acutely ill patients,” he added.

“This will be a marathon not a sprint.”

It was revealed last week that the Bons had confirmed its first case of Covid-19.

An elderly man was being treated for coronavirus at the private hospital after he was admitted with suspected pneumonia.

The patient was placed in an intensive care unit in a single bedroom.

In the aftermath of the case, two members of staff at the hospital were self-isolating.

Public behaviour key to mitigating spread of contagion

Dr. Chris Luke , Consultant in Emergency Medicine at the Mercy Hospital. Picture: Des Barry.
Dr. Chris Luke , Consultant in Emergency Medicine at the Mercy Hospital. Picture: Des Barry.

A LEADING medical expert in Cork has warned that Ireland’s ability to mitigate the spread of coronavirus throughout the country hinges on public behaviour.

Dr Chris Luke, an emergency medicine consultant and senior adjunct lecturer in public health at University College Cork, called on the public to follow the guidance and advice from medical professionals in a bid to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19.

He said if the threat of the virus becomes greater in the coming days and weeks, the health service will dial up its response in a controlled, appropriate manner.

For the time being, Dr Luke implored people to follow the guidelines set out by the HSE in terms of hygiene practices.

“If we follow the guidance and the science, that’s the best way to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our jobs,” he explained.

“We will dial-up as and when and if the threat becomes greater but we will dial up appropriately and in a controlled manner.

“The keyword is control — we need to be very controlled in our response as a country and community,” he added.

“We have to decide the right time, not prematurely and not too late, to send hospitals or schools or even towns and cities into lockdown.

“The effect on the social, economic, and political fabric of our country could be enormous.”

Dr Luke admitted that the recently confirmed cases in Cork, and the potential for more, will affect hospital capacity but he added that healthcare staff will pull through.

“The health service will be under a bit more strain than normal but there are fantastic doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals in CUH who will respond, and have always responded, very professionally and nobly.

“I have every faith in our healthcare staff,” he said. “We have to remind people that the effect of the disease hinges completely on the way people behave.

“If people adhere to the advice and lessons being put out by the HSE and healthcare professionals, and they really stick to those hygiene tips, then they will be protecting themselves, their loved ones, and vulnerable people in the community.”

Dr Luke said the spread of the virus has been expected and that healthcare workers have been preparing for such an eventuality.

“We have been expecting the outbreak for weeks and we have been preparing,” he said.

Immediate sanction of health posts is necessary

THE Department of Health must immediately sanction additional posts across the health sector to maintain patient safety, according to the human resources manpower manager for the HSE.

Speaking to The Echo, Aidan McGrath, Group HR Manager for the HSE, said the forced self-isolation of healthcare workers will place a huge strain on the service.

“It is my personal opinion that the HSE’s National Recruitment Service, in collaboration with the relevant authorising bodies such as the government and the Department of Health, must immediately sanction additional temporary posts to maintain healthcare continuity, patient safety and optimal levels of health service staffing nationally,” he said.

“As a public servant, I act on government and government department rules and directives.

“However, there is major reform needed in the HSE National Recruitment Service, which still uses application forms, campaign forms and documents that can go beyond 100 pages long,” he added.

“Recruitment must be devolved back to local health and national health agencies and organisations to allow for speedy healthcare hiring in emergency situations such as the one we are now facing.”

It was revealed in recent days that hospitals across Cork and Ireland are interviewing in the coming days to fill staff positions in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes amid reports of healthcare workers having to self-isolate after coming into contact with Covid-19 in recent weeks.

An email sent to healthcare workers across Ireland revealed that University and HSE hospitals across Ireland are seeking registrars, consultants and senior house officers (SHO) to fill positions.

Mr McGrath highlighted the issues thrown up by the pandemic that may be a barrier to any recruitment at present.

“A huge issue is school and childminding facility closures, which are having a huge impact on our health service workforce, which means many health service workers have no option but to take unpaid leave to care for their children at home,” he said.

“The Government must respond to this immediately to sustain safe levels of staffing. The knock-on effect of this means a reduction in the supply of agency workers available to cover gaps in services caused by the reduction in staff as a result of the above,” he added.

“We need more staff nationally.

“We also need contingent workforces available, and developed with our recruitment agency partners, for emergency situations to maintain patient safety and public health security.

“My own partner works in CUH as a doctor,” said Mr McGrath.

“The team, motivation and compassionate ethos of each individual contributes helps to overcome understaffing issues.

“He is regularly rostered for long hours and works as many extra hours possible to sustain service continuity and safety for patients, as do all doctors in CUH but this is having a horrific impact on their wellbeing,” he added.

“We must take immediate steps to protect doctors in order to protect ourselves, our friends and our families.

“Our healthcare staff are national heroes.”




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