People with vulnerabilities need greater support from the Government in order to make their return to education or the workforce possible, according to Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Ireland.
Although many have faced hardship on account of the pandemic, its impact has been particularly worrying and isolating for people considered at high risk of suffering severe illness if they contract Covid, particularly those with respiratory issues, such as CF.
“A lot of people with CF are sharing the same anxieties as everyone else, but with the added worries of living with a life-limiting disease,” CF Ireland CEO Philip Watt says.
Speaking to Breakingnews.ie, Mr Watt explains that while many may feel the pandemic has put their life on-hold, that sentiment is particularly evident among the CF community: “There’s anxiety about not just the short-term health issues with Covid, but also its long-term impact on independent living.
“Many young people with CF want to live in their own homes, start their own families- the usual ambitions of young people, but there’s a lot of concern that’s going to be delayed now for many, or it’s going to be much more difficult because of things like accessing jobs that are going to be safe for their health, for example.”
He adds that people who had lower-paid, public-facing jobs have been “disproportionately impacted” by the pandemic compared to those in positions with a secure salary and the option of remote working.
Can you imagine the added worry of those who have a respiratory disease or a chronic condition like CF?
While the wider population may be enjoying the increased freedom offered by the recent easing of restrictions, Mr Watt says many people with CF are still cocooning and likely did so before it was even advised by the Government in March 2020.
In a survey conducted by CF Ireland, Mr Watt said 70 per cent of respondents stated they had mental health or wellbeing issues. “Probably most people can relate to that from their own circumstances, but can you imagine the added worry of those who have a respiratory disease or a chronic condition like CF?
“It’s all those isolating issues, feeling like your life is in some kind of limbo, or on some kind of hold.”
In order to enable people with vulnerabilities to return to education and work, Mr Watt said clarity from officials is a must.
One of the immediate issues facing the CF community is whether children will be vaccinated before they return to school. The Government has now opened the vaccine registration to children aged 12-15, with vaccines expected to be delivered to the cohort from this weekend, however, Mr Watt says there remains questions as to how children with CF will receive their jab.
“We would hope [the vaccination] will be through the CF units in hospitals, but they still haven’t made that decision yet, so there’s a need for clarity around that,” he said, adding: “That will give a lot of reassurance to people, even if they have to wait, at least they know it will happen.”
Despite calls from various sectors to speed up the easing of restrictions in the State, CF Ireland favour the slow and steady approach: “We would certainly fully support the Government in terms of trying to keep things from opening-up too quickly, because that has a potential to have a very detrimental impact on our community,” Mr Watt explains.
“I would hope people would see it not just from their own position, but also that we need to keep a lid on things from the point of view of people with vulnerable conditions, like CF,” he adds.
Mr Watt points out that health services around the country have been greatly impacted over the last year and a half, with some CF services used for Covid during the height of the pandemic. “That impacts the services provided to people in our community and people are also much more nervous about going into hospital if a lot of people with Covid-19 are there.
“We are only recently getting back to the services we used to have,” he says.
Looking ahead, Mr Watt says “the legacy of Covid-19 needs to be acknowledged”, calling for an independent review into the country’s handling of the pandemic: “It was mostly handled very well, but there were dimensions, like the nursing homes, where they got it completely wrong and it’s important that we learn from those mistakes.”
“The absence of disease won’t mean the impact of Covid-19 is over,” Mr Watt adds, with the pandemic shining a light on the challenges faced by people living with vulnerabilities, which he hopes will lead to a more holistic approach to policies and supports in the future.