GP pulls out of vaccine rollout over ‘intimidating calls’ from public

Limerick doctor under ‘gigantic’ stress due to complaints from people yet to receive shot

A Co Limerick GP has said that his practice will not participate in the next phase of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout because of intimidating calls he and his staff have been receiving from people complaining about not getting the vaccine.

Dr Kieran Murphy, speaking to RTÉ radio's Liveline programme from his hospital bed at University Hospital Limerick, said that 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 that his staff had taken as much as they could take so they were stopping the vaccination programme at his practice. He said that he and his staff 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 hospitalised. “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 HSE for the rollout of the vaccination programme, 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 and I think the Government is right to stick to age groups despite the increased risk for gardaí­and teachers because it is the only way you can be as fair as you can without having complications of people asking why were we left out. ‘So and so got a vaccine and I didn’t.’”

The calls were intimidating more than threatening, he said. “It was really they felt that they had been deliberately left out, that they had been deliberately slighted, that we had favoured other people ahead of them for our own nefarious reasons, which was absolutely untrue, we went to great efforts to try to be absolutely as fair as we could be in allocation of the vaccines.

“It took up an inordinate quantity of time, both for me and for members of my staff ... but still we’re getting these totally pointless, time-wasting phone calls about vaccinations.

“The big thing I’d like to get across to people around the country – don’t be phoning your GPs, we don’t know any more than you do, it’s all there in the media. Ringing the GP isn’t going to get you vaccinated sooner, because we don’t have the vaccine. We’re struggling to cope with the extra work of the vaccine on top of a rising workload of the normal work that’s been put off since January as well as trying to cope with people afraid to come into the surgery and who want to deal with problems over the phone. It’s not tenable, it can’t continue at this current level.”