The chief executive of the Saolta University Health Care Group has reassured people that its public hospitals are working tirelessly to care for and protect patients and staff during this unprecedented public health emergency.
Tony Canavan stated that at all Saolta hospitals, including Galway University Hospitals [University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park] a “huge amount of work” has taken place over the last couple of weeks to prepare for an increase in Covid-19 cases. He said he wanted to acknowledge the commitment and dedication of its staff in this regard.
His comments came as the latest figures (at time of press ) reveal there were more than 35 cases of the virus in Galway. Community Healthcare West opened its first drive-through testing facility at Galway Airport yesterday (Wednesday ) which will increase capacity significantly. When this centre is fully operational, it will be able to test up to 1,000 people daily. There are four testing centres in Galway, two in the county and two in the city. People must have a GP referral and an appointment to attend these centres.
The CEO said additional critical care equipment and facilities are now available and a number of hospital employees from various disciplines have received specialised training to deal with the crisis.
Pictured at work at UHG this week were Dr Ksenia Davenport, Infectious Diseases SpR; Dr Maria McWalter, SHO; Dr Marcella O’Callaghan, Intern; Enrique Garcia, Aramark Catering; Dr David Gallagher, Infectious Diseases Physician; and Dr Marion Murphy, Infectious Diseases SpR.
Non-urgent procedures, diagnoses, and outpatient appointments have been cancelled as part of new measures to free up staff and space, he outlined. Saolta is also working closely with the local private hospitals as they prepare to play a supporting role, operating as public hospitals, in the battle against this global pandemic which knows no boundaries and has delivered the sharpest shock to the country’s healthcare and economic systems.
Mr Canavan said he also fully appreciated the impact that continuing hospital visiting restrictions were having on the public but stressed this was essential to safeguard patients’ and employees’ health.
He said every possible measure was being taken to enable the hospital to treat more patients. “We have moved and reconfigured existing inpatient wards to facilitate the treatment of suspected and confirmed Covid-19 patients in the safest possible way. In our intensive care units (ICUs ) we have created extra critical care capacity to allow us treat more patients, should that be required. We have also purchased extra critical care equipment for all our ICUs.
“Across the hospitals our medical, nursing staff, and some of our therapy staff have undergone extra specialised training to enable them to support their critical care colleagues as and when the numbers of patients requiring hospital treatment increases. We have been in contact with the private hospitals in the region and are planning with them how they can support us to deliver care to our patients.
“We have cancelled all but urgent cancer and time critical procedures, diagnostics, and outpatient appointments. We are contacting patients directly to advise them if their appointment is going ahead and reminding all those who are due to attend the hospital, not to do so if they have a fever or respiratory symptoms. Visiting restrictions continue in our hospitals with the exception of end of life situations and we expect that to continue over the coming weeks. We fully appreciate how difficult that is for our patients and their families but we must do it to protect our patients in the first instance but also our staff.”
Aoife O’Connor, Clinical Nurse Manager 2; Dr Marion Murphy, Infectious Diseases SpR; and Cathriona Leen, Staff Nurse in UHG pictured at work this week.
Chris Kane, the manager of Galway University Hospitals [UHG and Merlin Park] said its employees are preparing for the expected influx of coronavirus patients.
“Across every department and service in Galway University Hospitals, medical, nursing, allied health professionals, support staff, management and administration staff have been working incredibly hard to do everything we can to prepare our hospitals for Covid-19 patients.”
Employees are being very flexible in terms of adapting to the changing requirements, she said. “People are changing roles, working in areas of the hospital they wouldn’t normally, adapting their practice, and learning new skills - all to make sure that we are as prepared as we can be for the inevitable increase in patients presenting to the hospital.
“I want to pay tribute to our staff and thank them for all they are doing to ensure we can provide the best care we can to the people of Galway and beyond. They have and continue to be wonderful and always there to support patients who need to access our services.”
Dr Áine McNamara, a consultant in public health medicine with the HSE West, urged people awaiting testing or test results for Covid-19 to stay at home and self-isolate. She emphasised the importance of people safeguarding their own health and that of others.
“The coronavirus is spread in sneeze or cough droplets. To infect you, it has to get from an infected person’s nose or mouth into your eyes, nose, or mouth. You could get the virus if you come into close contact with someone who has the virus and is coughing or sneezing or if you touch surfaces that someone who has the virus has coughed or sneezed on.
Gardai are asking the public to report any incidents whereby people deliberately cough at them amid growing social media reports of this antisocial behaviour taking place in public
Dr McNamara appealed to the public to help stop the spread of the virus. “If you are waiting on a test to see if you have COVID-19 or you have been tested and are waiting for the results you need to stay home and self-isolate. If you have any symptoms, assume you have Covid-19 and isolate yourself for 14 days to prevent spreading any potential infection to others and to help stop the spread of this disease. For information on protecting yourself and others please visit www.hse.ie or telephone HSELive on 1850 24 1850.”
Meanwhile the Gardai are asking the public to report any incidents whereby people deliberately cough at them amid growing social media reports of this antisocial behaviour taking place in public - two people were arrested in Waterford and Dublin for coughing at the Gardai when they went to break up a large group of young people earlier this week. While there were reports on social media of deliberate public coughing incidents taking place in Galway these have not been verified by the Gardai.
The IPU has received many messages from local volunteers, including pharmacy and medical students, in addition to GAA clubs, who are volunteering to deliver medicines
Darragh O’Loughlin, a Tuam-based pharmacist and the secretary general of the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU ) warned people against buying fake medicines which claim to treat or prevent the coronavirus.
“People are feeling very anxious as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and may be more susceptible to thinking that counterfeit medicines are a viable option, especially for those who are self-isolating. However, that should never be considered. Counterfeit medicines are fake medicines, which are intentionally mislabelled and could be contaminated or contain the wrong or no active ingredient.
“The supply of prescription medicines via the internet is illegal in Ireland . It has been found that unscrupulous suppliers, posing as respectable and authorised pharmacies, engage in this business. Many of these are involved in criminal activity, conceal their true identities, and have no actual physical address or contact persons.”
He stressed that people buying these products from non-reputable sources do not know if these are counterfeit or genuine. “You have no idea what the medicine really contains so you are putting your health at serious risk or even risking death if you take them.”
People self-isolating or awaiting test results who need medication should, if possible, get someone to collect these supplies, he said. “However, for those people for whom this is not possible, there are alternatives in place. The IPU has received many messages from local volunteers, including pharmacy and medical students, in addition to GAA clubs, who are volunteering to deliver medicines. If you contact your local pharmacy, they will help sort out an alternative.”