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Inspiring ‘solidarity’ amid public health resource deficits

A Specialist Registrar in Public Health has told the Medical Independent (MI) about the inspiring “solidarity” she has witnessed across the health system in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Laura Heavey, who is also a member of the Association of Public Health Registrars Ireland (APHRI), said the work being done underlined that public health specialists should receive full recognition as consultants.

“Public health staff, including doctors, nurses, surveillance scientists, and administrators have all pulled together and made huge efforts to respond to this pandemic, despite our resource limitations,” according to Dr Heavey, who was commenting in a personal capacity.

In comments sent to MI on 24 March, Dr Heavey stated that she had “really been inspired by the solidarity shown across our health system – between public health staff and also our clinical colleagues working across primary care and the acute hospitals. Everyone is united by a common goal, to control this pandemic.

“It has also been incredible how many people have volunteered to help us with the contact tracing and other activities.”

But Dr Heavey pointed to lessons that should be learned in terms of recognition and funding of public health.

“However, if public health departments were not so short-staffed, we would not have needed outside help for some of these activities.

“Contact tracing can be complex and it is challenging and time consuming to train new staff in how to do it properly. In an ideal world, we would have had enough staff to do this ourselves from the beginning. It is really key to have details on the first few hundred cases to understand the disease and how it is transmitted through the population, in order to design the right response.

“The Government’s national action plan in response to Covid-19 states that it will ‘ensure parity of status, training, and career structure for specialists in public health medicine, so that they are appropriately empowered to strategically lead and direct the health service Covid-19 response’.

“The plan also describes resourcing and prioritising public health surveillance and reporting activities regarding Covid-19 .

“I hope that the Government makes the Covid-19 action plan a reality and that these actions continue after the pandemic is over.

“I have at least 35 more years of work as a public health doctor in Ireland.

“I hope that I will be recognised as a public health consultant in the future, that I will work in a system that values public health expertise and resources it appropriately, so that next time there is a public health emergency or national outbreak, we will have the resources that we need already in place at the outset.”

As reported in MI last month, the HSE informed the IMO in correspondence that it would fill public health medicine vacancies shortly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This newspaper asked the IMO whether it received a further update and awaited comment at press time.MI also recently reported that a permanent Director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre had finally been appointed in recent weeks, with the position having been filled on a temporary basis for nearly four years

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