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‘The whole system is swamped’

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Belmullet GP says Christmas surge is crippling health care

Edwin McGreal

Mayo’s reported Covid caseload could be a mere fraction of the real figure, according to a GP operating in the county.
Belmullet-based Dr Fergal Ruane said that while current case numbers released for Mayo day by day by NPHET are high, they could be far below the real number as the system struggles to cope with the surge in positive cases since Christmas Day. In his own practice, Dr Ruane says that only a fraction of the tests he sends off are returning on time – and ‘the vast majority’ of those are positive. Belmullet is believed to be a current hotspot in the county.
“The system cannot keep up with it,” he told The Mayo News. “Testing centres and contact tracing are overwhelmed, the whole system is swamped,” he said.
“The figures we are seeing are underestimated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers were three times that based on the numbers I am sending off.
“I was on call on the Bank Holiday Monday (December 28), and I know I only got a fraction of results back and the vast majority were positive,” he added.

Non-compliance a factor
From what he has seen and heard, non-compliance with guidelines and restrictions was a factor in the surge in cases, Dr Ruane said.
“If people followed the guidelines, it would have made a big difference. There was a lack of individual responsibility in many cases.
“It is blindingly obvious that a lot of people said they’d take a chance over the Christmas, that they would not get sick because they are not in a vulnerable group. Well some of those people got very sick.
“The All-Ireland was definitely a factor, along with other marquee days over the Christmas. I’m not sure if enough people coming home from the UK isolated like they should have. House parties were certainly a significant factor too,” he said.

Back to basics
Over the course of the past week, Dr Ruane  referred ‘at least 300 people’ for tests, the majority of whom were aged under 50. There was a noticeable shift in attitudes compared to the first lockdown, he notes, especially with the vaccine roll-out underway.
“There are some people going around with the idea that this is a benign disease, that only older people get it. Younger people are getting very sick, that’s the reality.
“There’s a false sense of security with the vaccine too. It could be a year before everyone has it.” The advice is simple, he stresses. “It all goes back to the basics. Wash your hands. Wear a face covering, keep your social distance and don’t go out unless you have to go out.
“Isolate if you think you have been a close contact and/or have symptoms. Don’t wait for contact tracers to contact you. They are swamped. Get someone else to get the groceries for you, stay at home.”
Dr Ruane also suggests that Belmullet District Hospital should be used to a far greater extent, to take the pressure off Mayo University Hospital.
“It needs to be looked at as a step-down facility, but nothing has been done. They could allow community admissions from GPs, which they are currently not allowed to do, as well as taking some non-Covid patients from Castlebar hospital,” he said.