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Dr Gerry Burke advises how best to overcome Covid-19 and admits UL Hospitals Group have prepared “as best as we can” in an exclusive column for The Clare Echo.

By Dr. Gerry Burke

Somehow, in the face of an unprecedented threat, we have rallied ourselves. We have organised in response to a virus that is moving through Europe with astonishing speed. The coronavirus pandemic has scythed its way from Lombardy, through the densely populated cities and regions of Switzerland, Germany, France and the Low Countries, through Spain and Scandinavia, and it has reached Europe’s far flung places: Greece, Ireland, Iceland, and the Faroes. By March 19th, Italy’s death toll had surpassed China’s.

In Ireland, as elsewhere, the number of cases has been increasing by 30% per day (although that declined to 15% at the weekend of March 20th). At 30%, 600 cases become 8,000 in ten days, and 150,000 in just three weeks. So the threat is grave and the task the community faces is daunting and urgent.

There is only one way to win the war on the coronavirus: by keeping the numbers of new infections each day at the lowest possible level. When each infected person passes the virus on to fewer than one other person on average, then the virus can start to die out in the community. That is what happened in China and this is the path we must follow.

The principle is simple: avoid getting infected by another person, and if you do get infected, do not infect anyone else. In particular, do not infect anyone vulnerable. This can only be achieved by rigorous physical distancing, stay away from other people, do not mingle, stay at home, keep a two-metre distance when you must have an interaction with another person; and by meticulous cleanliness wash your hands, clean the surfaces and objects you use, don’t touch your face, cough and sneeze with due care to minimise the dispersal of possibly infected droplets, dispose of tissues immediately and carefully.

A Conversation With Our Community
Our public hospitals have deep roots in our communities and their first responsibility is to provide acute medical care to our communities. But they are also important repositories of scientific knowledge, and centres of learning. These additional roles include the public dissemination of information on health topics, including the one that we all are grappling with now. Our communications department has produced and distributed on social media several short videos about hygiene; and clinicians and executives are making themselves available for radio and television interviews. We are thankful to the media for facilitating and moderating this part of our work, and we recognise the importance of journalism at this critical time.

Many readers will have seen one of UL Hospitals’ consultants, Dr Catherine Motherway, giving important messages to the nation in very blunt terms on RTE’s Prime Time on March 19th, messages that need to sink in and change behaviour quickly. The interview has been viewed by over one million people world-wide.

Sickest Patient First
Prioritising the most ill among our patients is a fundamental concept in the social justice that governs medical care. It is a concept that UL Hospitals has adopted and it informs the development of our clinical services. The Covid-19 outbreak shows us exactly how necessary it is to adhere to so simple a principle. This is why Ireland, the HSE and UL Hospitals are working flat out to increase Intensive Care Unit capacity quickly. We are preparing for the arrival of very many extremely ill patients.

Widely Distributed Leadership
Good care is the result of countless actions by skilled and diligent doctors, nurses, health and social care professionals (HSCPs), and health care assistants (HCAs), at the bedside, in the ICU, in the resuscitation room and throughout our hospital system. At this time also, the medical scientists and personnel of our Department of Pathology have been doing Trojan work in diagnosis of Covid-19 cases. In the coming weeks it will be really important that clinical experts take on key leadership roles. What we have seen so far is an impressive national response to Covid-19, complimented by an equally impressive response at local level, particularly in critical care preparedness. This has been encouraged and facilitated by managers and executives who deserve enormous credit for their hard work and meticulous attention to detail. The important tasks of recruiting additional staff, securing supplies of ventilators, oxygen, drugs, personal protective equipment and such like, and the ramping up of critical care capacity, fall to these valuable colleagues.

How Can I Help You?
Public hospitals operate in the Samaritan tradition and their mission is to help people. UL Hospitals Group is deeply committed to this tradition and mission. The question ‘How Can I Help You?’ is at the core of our ethos. It applies to patients, to colleagues, and to the wider community. In the current crisis, it is essential that it is observed. We appreciate the way the community has supported and encouraged our staff, and heeded our advice. It makes a real difference.

Mid West Together

In this terrible springtime, we have seen exceptional unity in the community. All sectors of society, public and private, have come together to organise, to prepare, to help, to serve. The calm, obstinate resolve, the kindness in the words spoken to us, and indeed the fear in people’s faces, are very moving. My friends and colleagues at UL Hospitals are immensely grateful for your unstinting goodwill as we face into the most difficult days of our lives. We have prepared as well as we can. We will do our best.

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