A RAPHOE pharmacist says health services are dealing with the worst case of flu in 20 years and has warned the system is broken because of the Department’s failure to plan.
Margaret O’Doherty of Raphoe Pharmacy said such is the enormity of the situation that in December alone her branch dealt with four to five times more antibiotics than last year.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Ms O’Doherty said: “It really started back in September as soon as the kids went back to school. I noticed a rise in cold and flu viruses as kids started mixing again after the summer holidays and it just grew and grew into October and by November and December it was out of control. I haven’t seen anything like this since the flu in the millennium 20 years ago.”
The pharmacist said her shelves are constantly emptying and it is getting harder and harder to refill them.
“Our shelves are empty. You stock up and you think that what you have will be plenty, but it isn’t.
“This month alone we have given out four to five times more antibiotics than last year. We are constantly trying to get stock but supply is not able to keep up with demand.
“Trying to find alternatives to stock is an issue. We don’t have the same system as in the UK where there is a Serious Shortage Protocol whereby the pharmacist in the event of a serious shortage of any prescribed item can supply in accordance with the protocol rather than against a prescription without going back to the prescriber. Instead, here we have to send the patient back to their GP and the whole issue is exasperated.”
Ms O’Doherty said the absence of a senior pharmacist in the Department of Health is creating major difficulties on the ground for frontline services.
“No-one can take the lead with it. When we raise it with the HSE they say there is no-one in a senior position who can make that happen on the ground. An emergency taskforce was set up before Christmas but that was much too late.
“We (pharmacists) have been at full tilt for three years. We’re a place where the doors are open and where people come to when they can’t get through to their GP or they don’t want to go to accident and emergency, even though that is where they should be going if it is an emergency.
“There has been a big failure to plan. We knew in Spring that there was a bad flu in Australia and New Zealand and we knew then that it would be coming our way. The Covid-19 pandemic was unprecedented, but this is the worst case of the flu we have seen in 22 years. Since Covid we have seen a rise in flu and respiratory viruses. You have to remember that flu is a killer as well, particularly if a person’s immune system is down or compromised. Ninety per-cent of people have had Covid and it has done damage in some cases to their organs. What we’re finding is that people who may have had a cold or flu are a month later finding themselves breathless walking a steep hill or a flight of stairs. It has had long-term impact.”
Ms O’Doherty said she believes the health care system is broken.
“In rural areas in Donegal, particularly in the last year, we have lost very experienced GPs who have retired. The most recent example of this was in Dunkineely.
“These positions are not being filled by a person with local knowledge and that slows the process down. I have heard people say to me that they were with Dr X for years and they knew to look at them that they were sick, but that is not the case with a new doctor. That is not to say the new doctor is not as good, it is just that they don’t have the same local knowledge. These rural doctors were on call 24 hours a day, there was no need for an out-of-hours service but no one can do that any more because the work has intensified, as has the paperwork.
“There is no support and the system is one of sheer bureaucracy. It is a constant struggle and a merry-go-round. Those who present at hospital get pushed back to their doctors who in turn get pushed to us and in turn this puts pressure on their carers.”