Sunday, March 22, 2020

A queue outside a Waterford pharmacy where only two customers at a time are allowed in due to Covid-19. Photo: Joe Evans

The Phoenix opinion column, which has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years

SEVERAL regular readers contacted the column about an article in the Irish Times of Thursday last reporting on the COVID-19 case at UHW. The story on page two of the paper mentions three hospitals. UHW, CUH and Bon Secours, Cork. In UHW’s case the phrase, “a ward at the 381 bed hospital” is used. No mention of bed numbers in Cork. UHW has 381 in-patient beds, 95 day beds and 50 beds in an acute psychiatric unit. This configuration is much the same across all large hospitals.

The approximate current total number of beds at UHW is 545 all other things being equal. UHW is a 500 bed or more hospital. That is a fact. Saying anything other than that is damaging to UHW. This is particularly dangerous at a time when resources may become constrained and could need to be rationed.

Crisis is a time for the strong to press their advantage as they are offered ever more authoritarian powers to quell the emergency. Those that have walked Waterford’s health care infrastructure into this crisis denuded of resources are now the ones in which we must trust to do the right thing and to do things right. That is a big ask for a region that was denied cancer care two decades ago, and basic emergency cardiac care for the past decade. Faith is thin on the ground.


‘Earth will abide and we should be working hard to understand just what we need to do to ensure the human race does too.’

Faith in our senior South South West Hospital Group/HSE management in Cork is totally non-existent amongst the workforce of UHW. They have seen too much over the past few years. Vigilance is required. When this virus passes, a reckoning of what was done with the COVID-19 emergency funding will need to be done, as well as a reflection on how UHW was so poorly treated in the build up to this crisis.

The future

The COVID-19 pandemic disease is now confirmed in UHW. Like everything else, it will eventually pass. Waterford must then see a greater focus on UHW as the Model 4 hospital serving the South East. The region always had the population to be self-sustaining across most medical specialties and the hospital group strategy, as it developed, and was led from Cork, has been shown for the tissue of stupidity it always was. No one expects heart transplants at UHW, but there is a strong case for most regional services. The patient volume and pathways are there to fully enable medical staff to maintain their skill levels.

The forced association of UHW with Cork has been a disaster simply because decision makers there promised much and delivered little. Their now exposed agenda is to reduce tertiary services here. They were unable to see that a fully resourced UHW could develop without impinging over much on Cork ambition. With good sense it would assist Cork ambition. But ego and hubris blind them to this reality. They have soured the pitch and firmly established themselves as Waterford’s enemy.

The Cork lobby is nervous that proposed new RICO health regional structures will hurt their ambition. They are seeking allies here, if you can believe it. Would anyone be surprised if Cork approaches to UHW and other South East hospitals in December 2019 looking for support to remain within the SSWHG group, instead of being aligned with St Vincent’s in Dublin, met with a brusque response? The second word was off! They deserve no better.

UCC has told all and sundry that their medical students’ experience in UHW is terrific with excellent student learning and support from tutors. No attempt has ever been made from Cork to publicly acknowledge UHW as a large and necessary cog in the SSWHG machinery. If anything, the opposite is the case. The vile delay in sanctioning the new mortuary and the offensive comments and obstacles created around the development of a second cath lab and expansion of cardiology services at UHW underline that. Bleatings from Cork that the loss of UHW and the South East to St Vincent’s in Dublin may damage Cork ambition are frankly sickening.

Anyway, Covid-19 testing is to commence in UHW and other regional Model 4 hospitals. Under direction from Dublin, the Dunmore wing and other facilities are to be opened and staffed quickly to cope with the emergency. This gives us hope that when all this is over, our hospital and the staff at all levels who work there will be recognised and resourced to the level of Ireland’s other seven Model 4 hospitals. The South East cannot do without it.

Earth abides

That’s the title of a 1949 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by American writer George R. Stewart. It tells the story of the fall of civilization from deadly disease and its rebirth. I read it as a youngster. No one is suggesting that we now face a disaster of that magnitude. Already there is terrific news of COVID-19 infected patients making a full recovery, and children seem remarkably untouched by it, but the moral of the story still stands. The planet will survive the depredations of the human race, but how do we survive? I don’t know enough about biology or epidemiology to make a judgement on these things, but from all the media verbiage, it seems the proximity of wet markets to everyday living in China provided the conditions where COVID-19 could develop and spread to human carriers.

Many questions will be asked when this outbreak is eventually defeated. Are there too many people on the planet? Is globalisation bad for the planet and the human race? Does mass air transport facilitate the spread of epidemic disease? Is it sensible to put all our faith in digital platforms and mobile phones? What happens if the internet collapses? Can the conspicuous consumption that characterises much of the so called “first world” go on? Is there a better way we could all live in harmony with this increasingly overcrowded planet?

Sitting in the kitchen this morning and listening to the sparrows chirping away in the bushes and watching a robin and a couple of noisy blackbirds rooting around in the grass, I realised that even if the human race, with all its Trumpian pomps, worries, billionaires, oligarchs and greed, vanished tomorrow, that the robins and the blackbirds would still be around. They would not miss us as they go about their annual routines. The tide would still come in in Tramore and the white surf would beat against the pier just as it did under a blue sky on a glorious day last week. Earth will abide and we should be working hard to understand just what we need to do to ensure the human race does too.

Cleanliness next to Godliness

The difficulty about cleaning staff at UHW has been resolved. The current pandemic has us all washing our hands and ensuring surfaces everywhere are glistening. In recent years there have been incessant complaints that cleaning levels at UHW have not been up to scratch. Having spent some time on a trolley I could agree with that. When the present difficulties are over, there should be a stakeholders committee formed by the HSE with a member of management, a member of staff and a member of the public organised to make a tour of the hospital each week to satisfy themselves that cleaning standards are appropriate.

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By Phoenix
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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