Coronavirus cases in emergency departments will make it difficult for hospitals to function to normal levels, a Cork GP has warned.
There are 19 confirmed cases of the virus in the Republic of Ireland now.
Dr Nick Flynn, of MyCorkGP.ie and Union Quay surgery, has spoken of the difficulties keeping normal services running in hospitals, referring to a patient at CUH who was diagnosed with Covid-19 earlier this week..
The male patient, aged in his 40s, became the first in the country to catch the infection through community transmission.
He had been in the hospital for up to a week before the test for coronavirus was carried out.
The circumstances of the diagnosis have sparked fears that staff or other patients could be infected.
“We’ve been dealing with cases where the person had travelled to areas associated with infection or cases who were contacts of known cases,” explained Dr Flynn.
“It was always going to be the case that we would have community transmission in Ireland and now we have a case.
“The fact that the first confirmed community acquired case came in CUH is going to provide additional challenges, both in terms of the hospital function itself and attempts to trace and contact those who came into contact,” he added.
“This will consume resources in the hospital sector that we just don’t have.
“We don’t have capacity in Intensive Care Units, we don’t have isolation units in hospitals, we do have overcrowded A&Es with poor infection prevention and controls.
“It will make it difficult for the hospital to function as it normally would and it will make it more difficult to deliver elective surgeries and services.
“Before Covid-19, the system was already operating over capacity.” Dr Flynn said the focus must now turn to mitigating community spread of Covid-19.
“It is very important that patients who think they may have the coronavirus do not walk into A&E or their GP without phoning first and getting the appropriate advice,” he explained.
“To do that, we need people to wash their hands, observe good hygiene, stop shaking hands and adhere to the advice from the HSE nationally and locally.
“We need to be swabbing a lot more people to determine the exact level of community spread.
“The facilities to diagnose people with the coronavirus need to be increased to get an idea of the actual situation - at the moment, we’re not swabbing enough people.
“There is no need for panic at the moment because for the vast majority of people, this will be a minor illness, although for some people, particularly the elderly and those with existing medical conditions, it will be a very serious illness.
“The public need to be vigilant, observe good hygiene practices, and adhere to the advice from the HSE through the media and online.”