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‘Power lies with the public’ to defeat COVID-19 – Barefield respiratory consultant

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*Dr John Garvey

Power lies firmly with the public in controlling how damaging COVID-19 can be according to a Clare man working as a respiratory consultant in Dublin.

Dr. John Garvey is a consultant respiratory physician at St Vincent’s University Hospital. He was adamant that the people of Ireland cannot become complacent and must continue to abide by public health restrictions in place by staying at home over the Bank Holiday weekend.

His background in respiratory management is “pertinent to the current pandemic” as the majority of COVID-19 illnesses can result in single-organ failure which puts respiratory physicians, infectious diseases physicians and intensive care physicians such as John “at the frontline of the management of hospitalised patients with this condition. The big thing with this condition is that most of the power with regard to dealing with it lies with the public, phrases like flattening the curve have been going around for several weeks and the power to flatten that curve doesn’t lie with respiratory consultants or physicians, it lies with the public,” he stated.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, the Barefield native cautioned, “We’re seeing a trend where the percentage of new cases on a daily basis is falling which means we may have gotten over the hump of the surge as data published this week suggested but we still have several weeks where our critical care facilities are going to be under immense pressure because anybody that gets admitted to an intensive care unit with this condition will probably require intensive care for a number of weeks, they will probably require hospital care for a significant period of time after that while they rehabilitate. This is a very new virus, we’re only starting to see people come through the other side of our critical care process and move into that phase of treatment, that is going to create immense pressure on our hospital systems”.

Research from the US published this week which was referenced by Dr Garvey indicated the peak of cases in Ireland has passed. He stressed there is a long way to go before Coronavirus is dealt with. “We’re far from being out of the woods, the worst thing that could happen as a result of that piece of research coming out is for the public to become complacent. The message that needs to come from that research is that we need to keep doing what we’re doing because it’s working”.

Extended time in ICU is expected for certain patients diagnosed with the virus which he said will put “huge pressures” on the Irish hospital system. “We cannot become complacent with regard to this. We have flattened things but this is not a sprint, it is going to be a marathon with regard to this, we’re going to have to be very careful with regard to changes in our behaviour like lifting restrictions. We don’t want a second surge occurring, we may not be able to prevent that, some of these things are out of our control, as you change restrictions on travel”.

Restrictions on the movement of people on the island has extended. The timeframe on their removal is “impossible to predict,” the former Director of the Sleep Laboratory at Kingston General Hospital in Ontario, admitted. “There is a change that has to take place amongst all medical professionals who may be experts in particular areas, in the midst of a crisis like this individuals need to realise that their opinion doesn’t really count, the thing that is most important is the opinion and leadership of our public health officials because we had to change how we practice medicine to reflect the fact we’re in a pandemic and a crisis”.

“Traditionally we would practise medicine and focus on the individual patient, that has had to change and our focus is on the health of the nation and the public. The duration of those restrictions are going to be laid down by our public health officials and by the Government, that is an extremely complex decision making process, we’ve seen the decision to enter lockdown and place restrictions on the public is something that was not done lightly, there was a lot of debate particularly online in advance to it occurring, I have no doubt that similar due diligence with regard to lifting the restrictions”.

Proud of his Clare roots, John acknowledged the impact the virus was having in the Banner County. “This is hugely difficult in terms of the economy, I’m a Clareman, I realise the impact it will have on tourism in the West of Ireland, the impact it will have on hotels, weddings are restricted, there is a severe pressure on businesses, the people that are extremely aware of this are public health officials. For full relief of the pressure we’re under, we’re going to have to depend on the development of something like a vaccine to get us through this, the timeframe we’re looking at with regard to that is 2021, a return to normal life is going to take until next year at the earliest, how we operate in that intervening period of time is really up in the air”.

A past pupil of St Flannan’s College, he revealed that healthcare professionals are concerned with the drop in presentations of non COVID-19 issues. “We have a major concern that people may have stroke like symptoms, cardiac symptoms and are delaying coming to hospital. Among my surgical colleagues, there is a concern that people might be ignoring abdominal pain and presenting later with surgical issues later like appendicitis. People need to cocoon, they need to self-isolate, protect themselves, their family members and people in their community but they also need to protect themselves and be aware that diseases and illnesses other than Coronavirus don’t disappear in the midst of a pandemic and not to be afraid to seek medical attention if it is required”.

As the weeks progress, guidance from the National Public Health Emergency Team is the advice to follow, he maintained. “We’re trying to be consistent with the message that my colleagues and the experts have been delivering, the majority of patients in hospital at the moment are coming through with COVID-19, the battle is far from over”.

Páraic McMahon is Head of News & Sport with The Clare Echo. The Newmarket-on-Fergus native also writes for national papers including The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times along with doing work for RTÉ, Today FM, and A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to -

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