Letter to the Editor: Caring for the most vulnerable

Letter to the Editor: Caring for the most vulnerable

It is late June 2020 and Ireland seems to have weathered Covid-19’s initial wave.

Deaths and new cases have steadily declined since the mid-April peak, the economy is restarting, and society is slowly getting back to normal.

Government spin doctors and media are generally positive about Ireland’s response to the pandemic. They repeatedly recite the availability of ICU beds, the low number of deaths, the high rate of testing, and the public’s compliance with Department of Health guidelines as badges of honour in Ireland’s early efforts to stem the Covid-19 tide. This is not an accurate picture of what has happened here in Ireland.

Most Covid-19 victims never made it to an ICU bed. Irish deaths, per head of population, are currently the seventh worst in the world. International experts assert that the time from test taken to result delivery must be less than 72 hours, for effective contact tracing in the battle to suppress Covid-19. Few Irish tests met this threshold, particularly in March and April when the virus was surging. Ireland is no model on how to suppress Covid-19.

International experience shows the old and infirm are most at risk of this virus, but Ireland’s response was to spread resources thinly rather than specifically targeting this most vulnerable section of our community.

The Government placed the economy on hold, to facilitate social distancing in its battle to suppress the virus. Non-essential businesses and community activities were shut down, the €350 Covid-19 payment was introduced, but carers and vulnerable retirees were excluded from this payment.

Health authorities suspended normal services and focused solely on Covid-19. Copious resources were ploughed into hospitals, but little help was given to care homes. Unforgivably, hospitals, already rife with Covid-19, then relocated many unscreened patients to these most vulnerable care homes in a bid to boost bed capacity.

When the virus did hit private care homes, government agencies distanced themselves until the damage was done. Care home staff was laid low by the virus and ordered to isolate, while the already under-resourced Care Homes limped on short-handed. Sadly, many of our loved ones died alone in these homes with no family around them. The shocking truth is that Ireland’s rate of Covid-19 deaths in care homes is the second-worst in the world.

Isolated at home or in care homes since March, the old and infirm were also denied access to other critical non-emergency health services. Full-time carers looking after loved ones at home were also stripped of essential support services. Implementing social distancing meant there was no respite.

Many broke down, yet these real heroes got back up and continued.

Many of the vulnerable were already isolated pre-Covid-19. Cocooning and government guidelines only added to this isolation by removing any residual quality from their daily lives. Many will never return to socialise with family or friends, complete a Bingo card, or enjoy a pint in their local pub.

Ireland’s old and infirm have clearly suffered most in Covid-19’s initial wave.

Our government must learn from this experience and belatedly prioritise care for the vulnerable in society. We will all benefit someday.

Gary Hoctor

Ballincollig Cork

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