Asthma Society ‘inundated’ with calls over coronavirus fears

Society calls for HSE to issue specific advice for people with long-term respiratory illness

The Asthma Society of Ireland has urged the Health Service Executive (HSE) to develop specific advice for people with long-term respiratory illnesses as fears grow about exposure to coronavirus.

Society chief executive Sarah O’Connor said the organisation has been “inundated with calls” from individuals with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) about coronavirus.

Some 380,000 people in the Republic have asthma. Another 250,000 are diagnosed with COPD along with an estimated 150,000 people who have respiratory problems, but who have not been diagnosed. They are on the vulnerable list.

Ms O’Connor said: “We haven’t been able to meet demand at all. We are booked up until next Thursday evening with our nurses, though we have extended the hours of our free nurse advice line.


“The levels of anxiety we have had have been absolutely unprecedented. People are really worried and really afraid. They are quite desperate to know that they are doing the right think to keep themselves or their loved ones safe.”

The fear of coronavirus is particularly pronounced for those with lung conditions as the virus severely hampers breathing and can cause death.

Ms O’Connor said the international data showed that people with existing respiratory conditions suffer worse outcomes and are more likely to need hospital treatment.

She said:“The Asthma Society has been liaising continuously with the HSE over the past number of weeks in relation to this healthcare challenge.

“We have communicated to the HSE the needs and very acute concerns of respiratory patients.

“We welcome increased engagement from the HSE with patient organisations in the last 24 hours and updated advice that has been provided for people in vulnerable groups, such as those with a long-term respiratory illness.”

However, Ms O’Connor said the HSE needs to develop specific advice for people with long-term respiratory illnesses as they have done for other diseases like cancer.

“People need to know that they are doing everything in their power to manage their illness and protect themselves from coronavirus. They also need reassurance that they will receive the healthcare they need and that employers will recognise their particular vulnerability at this time,” she said.

“Healthcare professionals also need leadership on clinical best practice. This guidance is best provided by the HSE.”

The Asthma Society is extending the hours of its COPD and asthma adviceline to meet increased demand.

It says it has developed its own frequently asked questions section on coronavirus for those with respiratory problems. The advice is on the Asthma Society website at

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times