Public health departments 'can no longer cope' with Covid-19 demand

Public health departments 'can no longer cope' with Covid-19 demand

Consultant in Public Health Medicine says the sector needs resources, and they need them now. File picture.

A leading public health specialist has warned that regional departments of Public Health can no longer cope and that Covid-19 outbreaks are going to be missed.

Dr Ann Dee, a consultant in Public Health Medicine, says the eight departments are now “throwing in the towel” and giving up on doing “proper” contact tracing.

“We can't cope with the volume of work," she told the Irish Examiner. There are not enough of us to deal with what is coming at us.

“Outbreaks will be missed and the situation will get worse. Unless the country wants to live in lockdown permanently every few weeks for the rest of the winter then the government needs to give us staff to be able to handle what is happening."

She added: “The regional public health system is as close to collapse as it has been than at any time before."

We need resources and we need them now.

Her comments come after Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan’s warning about the increasing resurgence of Covid-19.

In his letter to the government on October 4 giving reasons why the country should be under Level Five restrictions, he warned there could be up to 2,300 cases-a-day by November 7.

“We are seeing a sharp surge on the ground,” Dr Dee said. "It won’t be long before we start seeing 1,300 cases every day.”

The government has announced a multi-million recruitment package for each of the country’s eight regional Departments of Public Health.

And the HSE is working on an “enhanced contact tracing project” to help find the source of infection in community transmission cases.

But Dr Dee said the earliest staff will arrive from the new recruitment drive will be early next year.

“In the meantime, and nobody seems to be grasping this, we need extra staff and resources now, immediately. We need them on the ground now and they are nowhere near being on the ground.

“We would normally have followed up all our cases and identified extra contacts and try to work out the sources of their infection. But none of that is possible there now because we are so overwhelmed. With the figures going up all the time, we are now even closer to collapse than we have ever been. Now we are having to prioritise, which is always bad in a pandemic.”

One of her colleagues, who asked not to be named, said they sat in their office over the weekend and saw more than 150 new cases come in.

But, she said, “none of my staff could go near any of them because they didn’t have the time”.

Another colleague admitted: “We are having big outbreaks that we simply cannot get a handle on because we don’t have the resources.”

One said they had worked 128 hours in one week to cope with the workload. This was made up of their normal working hours and their obligations to be on the On Call Rota.

Another Public Health Specialist said they routinely work more than three to four full weeks without any time off.

The HSE was asked for a comment but was unavailable.

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