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We must scale up health services in face of danger

Editorial


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'A serious debate about the state of our health services and their ability to cope with a full winter of Covid-19 is more urgent than ever' (stock photo)

'A serious debate about the state of our health services and their ability to cope with a full winter of Covid-19 is more urgent than ever' (stock photo)

'A serious debate about the state of our health services and their ability to cope with a full winter of Covid-19 is more urgent than ever' (stock photo)

We may still be a long way off from a vaccine for Covid-19 but the Government can hardly claim it hasn't been given a strong dose of reality.

The red alert came in the form of the briefing note sent to the Minister for Health, and its import must be taken on board by all of us.

The public has in the main been exemplary in leading the national effort to survive the pandemic.

The Government's record now comes under the spotlight. There has been much talk about a return to schools and failure to open pubs. But a serious debate about the state of our health services and their ability to cope with a full winter of Covid-19 is more urgent than ever.

The prospect of patient waiting lists spiralling by as much as 130pc, as outlined in the briefing, is frightening.

The revelations - first published in this newspaper - about potential massive backlogs for basic treatment, including diminished cancer services, could hardly be more alarming.

Such stresses and elevated risk levels would seem to require a full emergency footing.

The worrying recent rise in the virus also demands an immediate response. The fact that much of it stems from congregated settings, including direct provision centres and meat processing plants, is not a major surprise.

The living conditions in direct provision centres were sub-optimal at the best of times; the ­pandemic surely renders them unsustainable.

We have not the luxury of sitting back and waiting for a magic bullet to come along.

Even in the best-case scenario it could be two years before we get close to a vaccine.

International experts concur: once a vaccine is found to be safe and effective, the process will merely be at the beginning, not the end. They must be manufactured to exacting standards. Distributing a vaccine fairly to people will strain the best of health networks. All will test supply chains, public trust, and degrees of global co-operation.

Much is still to be learned about the virus and its impact on physiology.

GPs have reported a large increase in the number of patients seeking referral for Covid-19 testing since the August bank holiday weekend.

The message is obvious: any abdication by the State or by individuals will be punished with a rapid catch-fire reaction.

As has been recorded internationally, the virus is "extraordinarily widespread". While we have the chance, we must take the opportunity to start anew with a national effort to mitigate and contain the pandemic.

The efforts of heroic hospital staff rightly won global admiration earlier this year. But those dire circumstances with which they were forced to contend were supposed to be exceptional. What ­happens if they are repeated or even escalated?

Our efforts and resources must now be scaled up to meet the new conditions and dangers.

This time we have no excuse for being either ­surprised or overwhelmed.

Irish Independent