To live with Covid, we need to tackle other health issues too

The imperative stays the same: we have to fight Covid-19 with all our efforts. As time ticks on, and the creaks and groans from other health services build – services which were, to all intents and purposes, ‘parked’ since late March – we see another aspect of the enormity of this challenge.

Yes, fighting Covid-19 must remain the priority. Although everyone – from Health Services Executive boss Paul Reid down – acknowledges that the focus must be widened. The day-to-day health services, which were almost shut down, have to be reopened and efforts are being made in that regard.

From mental health care to cancer care, paediatrics and more routine procedures, like knee and hip replacements, most people will agree that something imitating normal service just has to be resumed. There is some dread in many quarters about the near-future consequences of the stalling of many day-to-day health services in Ireland since late March – when Covid-19 really hit home.

In many ways, the national lockdown, applied from late March until mid-May, was as much about defending the health services and ensuring they were not totally over-run, as it was about arresting the virus spread and protecting public health.

The same can now be said about an impending reversion to tough Covid-19 restrictions as the second wave of the virus hits us. This point is not to criticise our senior health administrators. Protecting the health services’ ability to cope and continue delivering care is a valid aim in itself.

The authorities’ worry focuses on the numbers being admitted to hospital and the numbers especially requiring intensive care places. Yet it remains something of a puzzle why Ireland has such a scarcity of intensive care hospital places.

The question itself raises further issues about deficiencies in our healthcare provision, despite comparatively high per capita spending on the service. This past spring, as coronavirus descended upon us, the health services leased private hospital services to bolster against this deficiency.

Happily, the leased private services were largely not required. Nevertheless, it is worth asking why other contingency plans were not activated for an expected second wave of this virus in the interim.

Tomorrow will mark precisely three weeks since the Government published its strategy billed as a blueprint to deal with the next six to nine months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Collectively, we now know much more about the virus than we did before.

The initial policy response at the end of March was a blunt and desperate national lockdown. We know now that if we are to live with the coronavirus for months and perhaps years, our response will have to be dynamic and fluid.

Communicating far more complicated and deeply unwelcome messages at this point to a plague-weary public is now a vastly bigger challenge.

Being seen to remedy at least some of the day-to-day, non-Covid-19 health issues would surely be a help in achieving those aims.

Living with this virus requires this.

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