A doctor in Co Limerick has said his GP practice will not participate in the next phase of the vaccine rollout because of intimidating calls he and his staff have been receiving from people complaining that they or their relatives did not receive the jab.
Dr Kieran Murphy, speaking to RTÉ’s Liveline programme from his hospital bed at University Hospital Limerick, said there were “unrealistic levels of expectations” about the vaccination programme and that the sooner the age-based scheme commenced, the better.
“There can be no quibble about a date of birth,” he said.
Dr Murphy said his staff had taken as much as they could take so they were stopping the vaccination programme at his practice.
He said he and his colleagues had been awake at night worrying about how the programme would work, which, coupled with the intimidating calls, meant they “could not take any more of it.”
Over the Easter weekend Dr Murphy became unwell and was admitted to hospital. “I got an episode, they feel that stress may have had a part to play. I didn’t physically feel stressed, but the level of stressors in the past number of months has been gigantic.”
Dr Murphy paid tribute to the health service for the vaccination rollout, although he acknowledged that some of his deliveries were at short notice.
“The HSE has done an incredible job in the circumstances, things that would have taken years to put in place before the pandemic have been put in place in a week.”
The problem was the shortage of supply, he said. “We were warned that there would be less than adequate quantities of the vaccine in our second and third deliveries and the problem with that was that we had arranged that we were going to vaccinate all of a particular age group and it meant that only some of that age group were vaccinated.
“We live in a very small community so the word got out that some people, particularly in the age range 75 to 80, had been vaccinated while others hadn’t, and we then began getting intimidating phone calls as to why particular people had been vaccinated and others hadn’t.
“I think the thing that the general public don’t realise is the level of work that goes into a practice to organise the vaccines and to be as fair as we possibly can in allocation.
“These people who weren’t vaccinated just had to wait two weeks until we got a further delivery to get their vaccine, but it came across as a sense of entitlement as to why they were left out while other people got their vaccines.
“As a result of that we’ve decided that we can’t really take part in the next phase of vaccination which is the high risk group because determining who is high risk and who isn’t is very difficult, it’s not black and white – age groups are black and white.”
Dr Murphy explained that he and his staff were getting threatening calls from people “as to why they or their relatives had not been vaccinated when other people in the same age group who are often their cousins or their neighbours had been vaccinated.
“Even when I explained it was purely due to a lack of supply of vaccine, we were able to do all of our over 85s and they’ve all had their second doses, they weren’t listening.”
The calls were intimidating more than threatening, he said.
The callers were claiming that the practice was showing favouritism to individuals and neglecting people who had been patients for years, he said. “They felt we owed them a duty of care beyond and above anybody else on the list. Threatening is the wrong word to use, but it was quite aggressive language. They felt hard done by.”
He urged the public to stop phoning their GPs about getting the vaccine, as it would not speed the process up.
Dr Murphy admitted that the stress of the situation had “inevitably taken a toll” for something that was outside his control.