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The health service will continue to be “overwhelmed” by waves of Covid-19 if “wholesale changes” are not made. The Irish Society of Specialists in Public Health Medicine (ISSPHM) made the warning at the end of June as Covid cases continued to increase. 

Dr Douglas Hamilton of the ISSPHM pointed to the “wholesale changes” outlined in the Society’s position paper, For Better Pandemic Preparedness Now and Into the Future

He said a public health system needs to have “an effective and affordable approach to current and future health system stressors” and said this can be achieved by “adequately leveraging and strengthening public health capacities”. 

He added that the ISSPHM looked forward to the imminent publication of the recommendations of the public health reform expert advisory group. 

“[We] hope that unlike many health system reports and strategies in Ireland, these findings will be fully implemented in a timely fashion so that when — not if — the next pandemic strikes, we will be better prepared.” 

Regarding the current Covid wave, Dr Hamilton said: “It’s unsurprising, given the nature of respiratory viruses and the current levels of globalisation and interpersonal mixing that we are once again experiencing a surge. 

“What is surprising is that despite two years of experience and unprecedented healthcare spending, very little has changed and our health system is again having difficulties coping. 

“While the vast majority of restrictions have been lifted, it is important to remember that Covid-19 is still with us. Despite signals from the media and our Government that it is time to return to the status quo, that is not a luxury shared by the vulnerable among us — for example, those aged over 65 and those with a weakened immune system due to underlying health conditions. 

“It is crucial that people in these groups receive their second booster dose as the current variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can still cause significant disease, especially in those at high risk. Unfortunately, to date, according to the HPSC, fewer than 10 per cent of those who are eligible for a second booster have received it.” 

Dr Hamilton added that it was “concerning that this surge is happening in the middle of summer, which is unusual for other respiratory viruses like influenza, yet is still causing rates of hospitalisation that are causing our [emergency departments] to warn against non-urgent attendance”.