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15 years to flatten the curve?: Real price of Covid lockdown now coming to light 

Yesterday, a stark warning, and a wake-up call, from the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association. 

It will take 15 years – and no, that’s not a typo – to clear the backlog of medical care that was deferred during Covid-19 lockdown in Ireland.

This report below from RTÉ, who were, of course, a cheerleader for Ireland having the longest and most draconian lockdowns in Europe, despite the mounting evidence that the coronavirus restrictions were going to cause immense harm.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association has said that it could take 15 years to clear the backlog of deferred care built up during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The organisation said that more than 907,000 people are now on some form of hospital waiting list across Ireland.

In its pre-Budget submission today, the IHCA said that consultant vacancies were at an all-time high of 882 permanent posts not filled.

IHCA President Professor Alan Irvine said that one consultant surgical oncologist was appointed without access to an operating list or outpatient clinic for almost a year, while theatre capacity for a number of surgeons in another hospital was reduced to 50% compared to pre-Covid levels and has not been restored yet.

The IHCA has said that promises to add an extra 1,146 beds by the end of last year have also fallen short by an estimated 317 beds, leaving patients waiting longer for critical procedures and treatment

 

There are real and terrible consequences from cancelling and deferring and restricting essential healthcare in order to ‘flatten the curve’ for a virus which was mostly harmful to older and vulnerable people, and which the vast majority of people experienced as a mild illness.

That’s not to understate how severe Covid-19 could be, and the devastation it caused to so many elderly and sick people, or to those with underlying conditions, but it became obvious within a relatively short period of time that locking everything down could – and would – have even more devastating outcomes, not just for economies, or for businesses, or for children deprived of in-school learning, but for healthcare.

But over the course of two years of increasingly shrill pandemic commentary, anyone who pointed out that obvious fact was decried as a “Covid denier” or accused of not caring about older people – sometimes by the same people whose shameful neglect of elderly people led to such high numbers of deaths in nursing homes.

Medical experts who spoke out about the harm caused by lockdowns were largely ignored.

Others, like Dr Martin Feeley, who was formerly Clinical Director of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, were shamefully bullied and castigated, and sometimes even hounded from their jobs, despite laying out the evidence that “minimally disruptive measures” would be “at least as effective as rolling disruptive lockdowns in preventing Covid-19 related deaths.”

The lockdowns continued nonetheless, as if the Irish government wanted to be the best boys in the class at restrictions, basking in the occasional praise from the UN or some such body even as hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of people missed appointments that might have spotted cancer, or heart diseases, or a risk of blindness, or any of the conditions left untreated or undiagnosed by two years of Covid restrictions.

Last December, I wrote a piece arguing that “the damage caused by Covid lockdowns must be faced.”

“There are real and devastating costs to lockdowns which have real and devastating effects on people’s lives. Yet the Irish government is largely keeping us ignorant on the actual cost of locking down the people and the economy,” I pointed out.

We know the cost of borrowing to finance the shut down – more than €40 billion, which has to be repaid because there is no magic money tree. We’re looking at the kind of spending that crashed the economy after the banking crisis, and we know that brought untold hardship for so many people with recession, tax hikes, and cuts to spending.

The effect of stringent restrictions on access to medical care is enormous.  Professor Seamus O’Reilly, a consultant medical oncologist in Cork University Hospital, has warned that we will see higher death rates from cancer for the next decade because of the disruption to cancer screening and treatment over the past year. Cancer treatment trials were down 40%, mammograms were cancelled for 6 months, and just 1 out of every 5 cervical checks were attended.

Demand for mental health supports and suicide prevention services have soared across Ireland during the 13-month Covid-19 pandemic, according to Ireland’s first Professor of Public Mental Health, Prof Ella Arensman.

In the US, the New York Times recently reported that a radical increase in fatal drug overdoses was driven by an increased use of fentanyl and “the initial pandemic lockdowns and subsequent fraying of social networks, along with the rise in mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.”

Then there’s the harm  caused by an increase in domestic violence, in educational difficulties for children especially those already disadvantaged, and much more. 

Yet these effects have not been subject to rigorous analysis by the Irish state. 

That rigorous analysis never happened. In fact, the government largely jumped from one crisis – Covid – to another – the war in Ukraine – without being held to account for their actions in enforcing such a long and unjustified lockdown.

Irish politicians, it must be said, have long been adept at failing to provide the kind of analysis that might show how their policies failed the people and the state.

Yesterday’s announcement that it might take 15 years to deal with the backlog of deferred medical treatments is a scandal that must not go unanswered.

As my colleague Gary Kavanagh tweeted: is it now a case of “15 years to flatten the curve”.

 

It seems likely that most of the country got Covid-19 anyway, and the horrendous mismanagement of the care of the elderly led to so many unnecessary deaths while we were all being forced to confine and told not to hug our mothers and fathers. The only thing we flattened was our health service , and that was already on its knees.

Last week, the Telegraph reported that the effects of the lockdown “may now be killing more people than are dying of Covid” according to official statistics

“The Telegraph understands that the Department of Health has ordered an investigation into the figures amid concern that the deaths are linked to delays to and deferment of treatment for conditions such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease,” the paper said.

Why is no such investigation taking place here, in obedient, conformist, Ireland where the government always seems more interested in its international reputation than the well being of its people?

If Covid lockdowns have led us to a 15-year backlog for medical treatment, with all the excess deaths and suffering that will cause, the very least we need are some answers.

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