Minister for Health Simon Harris has been warned of the "potentially disastrous" consequences of mixing Covid-19 and cystic fibrosis (CF) patients as pressures on the health service intensify.
In a letter sent on Wednesday to Mr Harris, Cystic Fibrosis Ireland told the Minister that "the mixing of CF and Covid-19 patients on the same ward/floor is potentially disastrous for patients with CF, even with separate isolation rooms".
The organisation's chief executive, Philip Watt, wrote that CF patients are already extremely vulnerable to infection, and already not treated on the same inpatient ward as each other to lessen the chance of spreading disease between them. Being treated close by to those suffering from severe and infectious respiratory conditions would heighten the risk of cross-infection.
Mr Watt also raised concerns about the use of dedicated facilities for CF patients being pressed into action for the treatment of patients with Covid-19. The organisation last week was told that the Health Service Executive foresaw no need for such a step, but Mr Watt wrote yesterday to seek fresh assurances given the escalation of the crisis.
“We know that in the event of an escalation of Covid-19 that hospitals may come under pressure to use CF facilities,” he wrote. “The use of existing CF facilities for patients with Covid-19 may significantly delay admission/treatment of people with CF and thus compromise the health of a very vulnerable group of patients.”
He also requested that patient advocacy groups which represent at-risk populations be given a direct line of communication to the office of the chief medical officer, something which was requested at a “town hall” meeting with advocacy groups last week, but which has not been provided. “This will be of particular importance in the context of possible future gaps or delays in the postal service,” he wrote.
Mr Watt has also raised concerns about the availability of face masks for CF sufferers attending hospital appointments and procedures. He told The Irish Times that his organisation had been asked to provide face masks for individuals attending a hospital in the west of the country. While the request did not come through official channels, he nonetheless said he was concerned and called on the HSE to ensure there were adequate supplies of face masks. He said that face masks were being made available to patients on Wednesday afternoon, after The Irish Times submitted queries on the matter to the hospital in question.
The hospital told The Irish Times it was supplying masks to patients for use where clinically indicated or requested, and said no patient has been refused a mask or asked to bring one in.
It comes after HSE microbiologist Prof Martin Cormican advised GPs to source face masks in hardware shops or garden centres if protective equipment becomes difficult to source. He also said that plastic goggles, face masks and other protections may need to be reused, in which case they should be washed in detergent and water, or wiped all over with a disinfectant wipe.
Best practice remains to dispose of protective materials after each use.
First person: Benat Broderick (16), writes about living with CF amid threats from coronavirus.
“As someone who has a chronic lung condition and has a weakened immune system I’m urging people to really consider when out in the public who may be around them when, for example, they are coughing and sneezing, because for someone like me with cystic fibrosis I can literally pick anything up with my lowered immune system and it can be extremely serious and dangerous if I do, but now the thought of coronavirus is making me and others very concerned for ourselves.
“I think the public need to be aware of the damage and the potential it can do to people with CF and anyone who has a low immune system or an underlying condition.
“Due to the nature of CF, hand hygiene has a big part to play as we are constantly trying our best to prevent catching infections, colds, etc, so washing our hands and trying to keep ourselves well is something we are constantly doing. But now my fear is that the public “forgetting” to cough into their arm may actually cost my life as the virus potentially spreads further.
“I am really encouraging people to follow the advice of the HSE, and do the appropriate steps in the aim to help prevent spreading it.”