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Burgeoning level of non-Covid care ‘a very significant problem’

17th National Health Summit, virtual conference, 10 February 2021

The accumulation of non-Covid-19 cases within the health system is a “very significant problem”, the annual National Health Summit heard earlier this month.

“During the month of January our largest cancer centre for the whole of the west and north west of Ireland, serving a population of 800,000 people, essentially did no cancer surgery for a full month,” said Mr Tony Canavan, CEO, Saolta University Health Care Group.

“That is unsustainable and there are problems associated with that, problems sitting with patients in the community that need to be addressed.”
He said that non-Covid cases are “a very significant problem that is being stored up”.

Prof Mary Horgan, President of the RCPI, told the conference that what keeps her “awake at night is what we are missing”, because of patient fear of presenting to hospital or community services.

“I think it’s important that we get our non-Covid service, which is the dominant part of our services, up and running again.

“I think it is challenging, I think we need to shift from a very immediate focus that our whole system is just Covid. That is not the case.”

Prof Horgan said that “every single new technology that is out there that can manage and assist” in the current crisis should be embraced.

“That is vaccination, that is testing and tracing using every test system, not just PCR but other rapid testing, continuing the [social distancing, handwashing, etc] behaviours that got us where we are today after the difficult month [of high cases in January], and the new treatments that are on the horizon.”

Reflecting on what changes could occur in hospitals after the pandemic, Prof Horgan highlighted the example of hospital doctors going into community care settings.

“Particularly in care for the elderly, which effectively happened and protected people where they live, essentially in long-term residential facilities. We do that in paediatrics already.”

On paediatrics, she said that “we have seen a huge decrease in the number of children attending services because of the simple measures we are doing such as hand hygiene, cough etiquette… so I think we need to take lessons from that”.

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