Fintan O’Toole: It is time for an Irish National Health Service

The Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible for the old health system to continue

Trollies with patients in the A&E Accident and Emergency Department of St. James’s Hospital, Dublin. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Trollies with patients in the A&E Accident and Emergency Department of St. James’s Hospital, Dublin. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Even if there is not a second wave of Covid-19 infections, there will surely be a second wave of crisis in the Irish healthcare system. It is not just that there are fearful challenges in maintaining social distancing and enhancing infection control in hospitals that are, even in normal times, often dangerously overcrowded, especially in A&E departments. Waiting lists, already scandalously long, will have all the patients whose treatments and tests have been cancelled in the crisis, added to their numbers.

People will be turning up sicker than they would have been because diagnosis and treatment have been delayed. The habit of leaving the nursing home sector out of sight and out of mind will have been broken by the terrible toll of deaths within it. After this week’s damning evidence to the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 response, can we simply go back to leaving social care as a distant suburb of the health service?

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