EVEN with the extra €600m which the government has pledged for the HSE Winter Plan for 2020/’21, they will be continuing to play catch-up, but coming from a much lower base. All of the resources that had to be diverted into the fight to try to keep the Covid-19 virus suppressed for the past seven months have had a knock-on effect on the regular public health services with waiting lists for appointments with consultants and various treatments growing again, cancelling out any progress that had been made heretofore in reducing them.
The influenza season will be with us within the next few months and trying to distinguish between ’flu victims and people with the Covid-19 virus will be difficult but nonetheless crucial. It is vital this year that those who could be vulnerable get the ’flu vaccine, which should be imminently available, so that they will have a fighting chance of survival if they are unlucky enough to contract the virus.
Dealing with the increased waiting lists across the spectrum of ailments has been made more difficult by the pandemic, as because of social distancing and other Covid-related safety requirements, the public health service is not able to process the same volume of patients as before. Also, with the number of hospitalisations of people with the virus beginning to creep up already, the capacity to deal with other patients may become limited again during the winter months.
A lot of extra resources are, rightly, being put into improving the HSE’s test and trace capabilities, which needs to be at the top of its game for the months ahead if we are to maintain any hope of keeping the economy and our society functioning. However, the HSE must also deliver on its promises of extra hospital beds, more GP primary care in the community to keep people out of hospitals and home care packages so that not as many older people will need to be cared for in nursing homes.